HR Guide to Mental Health: Depression in the Workplace Featured

Mental health is a core focus for all employers, no matter how small or large. It is something no employer can afford to ignore. We all have mental health just as we have physical health – it moves up and down along a spectrum from good to poor. Considering how much time we spend at work, it is not surprising that our jobs can affect our wellbeing. One of the most common mental health problems affecting most people in the workplace today is depression.
A typical example of depression outcome was the case of a medical doctor, Allwell Orji, who stopped his driver on the 3rd mainland bridge and jumped into the Lagos lagoon on 19th March, 2017. Also, on 29th August, 2017, it was reported that a man jumped into the river on the Mile2 bridge in Lagos, just to mention a few.
What is depression and what causes it?
Depression describes a range of symptoms from a period of low spirits that makes coping with normal tasks harder, to life-threatening thoughts and behaviours that can make it impossible to function. Someone experiencing depression may find it difficult to be motivated to complete tasks – including seemingly simple things like getting to work on time. They may be irritable, easily frustrated or find it difficult to make decisions. Depression often means someone is less likely to want to discuss their thoughts, feelings or behaviour, which can lead others to misinterpret its common symptoms as laziness or unprofessionalism.
The causes of depression vary, but possible factors include:
  • Life events, physical conditions, medication, stress and lack of sleep.
  • Pressures in the workplace – for example; fear of redundancy, long hours, dealing with difficult people or situations, or unreasonable targets – can both cause and worsen depression. 
Although employees may not want to discuss these problems, it is important to consider how they can be addressed to assist the person’s recovery, as people who have experienced a mental health challenge can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace.
Modupe Wigwe (CBT Counsellor, NLP Master Practitioner & Coach) cited the World Health Organisation (WHO) by giving the following key facts on depression:
  • Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease
  • More women are affected by depression than men
  • At its worst, depression can lead to suicide
  • There are effective psychological and pharmacological treatments for depression.
Modupe also recommends the following set of questions to organisations seeking solution to mental health challenges:
  • Are all employees treated with respect?
  • Do people feel supported, both personally and professionally?
  • Do people feel safe? Can they be sure their manager is out to help them and not hinder them?
  • Is there transparency in daily dealings with employees?
  • Do people feel valued and appreciated for their efforts?
  • Do people feel listened to?
  • Can people rely on their manager’s fairness in dealing with them? 
As stated in The Guardian newspaper of Thursday April 19, 2018, there are lots of factors that can contribute to one’s mental health challenges, which include: genetic factors, life experiences and having a family history of mental health problems.

Below are 12 subtle signs of mental illness:
  • Finding normal interesting activities very uninteresting
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Having consistently low or no energy
  • Emotionless feeling, like nothing matters
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Obsessive smoking, drinking, and use of drugs
  • Consistent feeling of confusion, forgetfulness, edginess and anger
  • Constant fight with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others 
Mental illnesses in individuals are very common, ranging from postpartum depression, which is associated with women, bipolar or maniac depression, borderline personality disorder, situational depression, addiction and much more.
Mental health problems are common, but hardly heard of because of the stigma attached to it and due to the fact that a lot of people do not see it as a problem. People go through illnesses but do not speak until it reaches its climax. One of the first things a person should do when dealing with depression especially when it begins to affect his or her productivity, is to fully accept the fact that something is wrong somewhere and seek professional help.
Five ways of dealing with mental health issues:
Moving from a low or depressive state to a healthy mental state is a process, which cannot be immediately achieved, but takes time. In dealing with different mental illnesses, it is important to note these few points for quicker results:
  1. Seek professional help.
  2. To achieve peak performances, there is need to have a positive mindset, which involves an individual not dwelling in his or her sadness or anger, but seeking help when things get out of hand. It is one thing to acknowledge that you are sad and heal from it but another thing to stay in that emotion and become depressed.
  3. Surround yourself with family, friends and positive individuals that bring out the best in you. Do not lose touch of physical meetings and hangouts.
  4. Be careful with what you take into your mind; what goes on in a person’s environment can affect his or her mental state. Always invest your time in doing positive things. Be physically active. As the saying goes “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”.
  5. Be conscious of your peak performances and be able to get positive results on a consistent basis.
How can HR help to deal with mental health challenges?
HR has a vital role to play in supporting an employee with a mental health challenge – whether they are at work or not.
Generally, a common-sense approach based on open communication and good people-management is all that is required. The rules of thumb are:
  • Encourage people to talk: Create an open environment where people feel able to have a dialogue about their wellbeing, and even disclose a diagnosed mental health problem should they wish. Remember everyone’s experience of mental health problems is different. Focus on the person, not the problem and ask open questions about their triggers and what support they need. 
  • Avoid making assumptions: Do not try to guess what symptoms an employee might have and how these might affect their ability to do their job – many people are able to manage their condition and perform their role to a high standard. 
  • Respect confidentiality: Remember mental health information is highly confidential and sensitive. Do not pass on information unnecessarily – not least because this breach of trust could negatively impact an individual’s mental health. 
  • Create a friendly environment: Always try to make the environment friendly to enable employees to be able to express their feelings freely. Create fun in the work place to balance it up with work 
  • Respond flexibly: Because mental health problems affect everyone in different ways and at different times in their lives, adapt your support to suit the individual by developing a personalized action plan.
Click HERE to assess your depression status freely!

The Institute would be organizing a webinar in which an expert would be invited to talk about depression and how people suffering from depression can get help. The date and time of the webinar would be communicated as soon as possible. Watch out!
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