From TJ Magazine: Understanding depression

In the first in a series of articles on mental health, Karen Meager and John McLachlan examine how to recognise and approach depression.

Reading time: 3m 30s.

With people spending a vast majority of their time each week in the workplace, it is important that this environment is well equipped to deal with any mental health issues that arise. It is crucial that management, in particular, is able to pinpoint the signs of someone struggling with mental health issues such as depression. 

Creating an environment which allows all to voice concerns and feel supported to deal with any crises will drive that business towards success. 

What can you look out for?

Pinpointing someone who is struggling with a mental health issue can be much trickier than spotting someone who is physically suffering from illness – this is why it is crucial for leaders to encourage the friendliest and most caring working environment possible.

When everyone in the workplace is encouraged to interact with and care for each other, it becomes much easier to see any lasting changes in the behaviour of employees and colleagues. In addition, make sure all employees are aware of possible symptoms so that everyone will be alert to any prolonged changes in their colleagues. 

When everyone in the workplace is encouraged to interact with and care for each other, it becomes much easier to see any lasting changes in the behaviour of employees and colleagues.

Leaders should always act in the way they would like their colleagues to, so ensure you, as a leader, remain vigilant to any behavioural changes that are out of the ordinary. 

The symptoms that everyone should be made aware of include:

  • Irritability.
  • A heightened emotional state that may result in crying or a dejected mood.
  • Changes in relationships with colleagues that result in communication issues or increased friction.
  • Lack of motivation for work which may result in a lower work rate.
  • Dodging of communication with others, whether that be with colleagues, management or clients. 

It is important to remember that these given symptoms should always be compared against the individual’s natural behaviour pattern. If someone has always acted according to these behaviours, there may be a different reason as to why the individual is behaving this way – for example they are not satisfied with their job.

This should also be addressed, but may not require the same actions as supporting someone with depression or mental illness. 

How should leaders approach this?

Leaders and managers in the workplace should definitely have awareness of the symptoms of depression and other mental health issues, but this does not mean they hold the responsibility of diagnosing their employee or colleague.

Being aware of the symptoms does not mean you automatically become a mental health professional and should begin to counsel the employee. However, leaders  should always do all they can to lessen the burden of issues being faced.

The best course to take if you are concerned about an individual is to talk to that person privately about the personality changes you have observed and see if they will open up about their feelings. If you have cultivated an inclusive office culture then this person will hopefully feel comfortable to talk about how they are feeling.

However, individuals often feel ashamed of their feelings and many choose to try to hide them. It is important that you offer the individual this chance to open up and react to what you have observed as this will allow you to see if there is an alternative explanation for their behaviour.

It is quite likely that this sort of conversation is one that may fill you with apprehension as a leader. It is possible that the individual suffering may act very emotionally when confronted with their changes in behaviour and you may not feel equipped to deal with the varying responses that could occur. 

However, it is important that concerns about individuals are always raised so no one falls under the radar. Having these conversations will contribute to removing the mental health stigma and will make it much easier for anyone who is struggling to come forward, as they will be aware that you are accommodating to these issues.

Leaders should not be expected to be mental health specialists but should assume the role of a guide towards specialists for those struggling.


About the authors

Karen Meager and John McLachlan are co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training.


This is an excerpt from January’s TJ Magazine. For a free 3 month trial click here


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