When is it okay to tell your workplace that you’re experiencing mental health problems?
This is tough to answer, despite all the recent media stories (and plenty that never make it to the media) concerning suicides, celebrities suffering depression, etc.
The majority responding to a recent topic thread on depression emphatically declared “do not disclose” problems to colleagues and management as they can then find ways to move you sideways or kick you out altogether. How sad is that?
Some people are on medication, others choose alternate therapies, some get counselling and some are yet to be diagnosed. The dilemma exists on all sides: employers must decide how best to handle workers suffering these illnesses, while the latter may feel that to disclose or share their agonies may mean to jeopardise everything they’ve worked for.
Too often, they are right, and many leave their jobs, sometimes after a humiliating “performance management review”.
There are many employers who’ve had to let people go because it was impacting the entire team. And then there are employees who’ve suffered unjust discrimination, resulting in a vicious downwards spiral.
Ideally, we should be able to talk to those we work with about our lives and our health. But invariably a lot depends on the relationship you have with the business, your manager, the quality and experience of your HR manager, and the degree of severity of the illness at particular times.
Management teams should discuss mental health issues and develop support strategies
Leaders need to build positive attitudes and support mechanisms for any staff impacted or likely to be by depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health problems. We need to remove the stigma and make all staff feel comfortable about who they are. It’s much better to work for a company that has employee well-being at the forefront of their concerns and a proactive approach. It is a duty of care.
Depression and mental health problems are big work issues and we need to understand the impact on work and the associated stress triggers. How tragic that anyone would feel so bad they would want to end their life? And yet one in five people will suffer from depression at some stage in their lives, and this can lead to time off for varying amounts of time. We must have empathy for such a common situation.
People who are working well and getting through each day may have compartmentalised whatever else they are experiencing in their lives for the sake of their regular employment and promotion chances. You would be wise not to presume, however, that such people always “have it together”.
If you sense someone is unhappy, quiet or withdrawn – talk to them. Say you have noticed the change, or the ongoing issues. Assist people in finding information and an employee assistance program, and be prepared to negotiate a lighter workload.
Are there ways they can work while seeking treatment and assistance? Can you ensure that others are giving them space? Make sure other employees are not making things worse.
Don’t ever give up on someone with depression. Be sensitive, caring and supportive. Being supportive is one of the most highly valued skills of managers. Ensure they get professional help. Friends and colleagues can make a real difference.
Symptoms of depression
Often we feel a range of things that tell us we are not operating at our peak. WE may even be unwell. Can you say yes to any of these?
- Appetite or weight changes
- Restless or agitated
- Tired all the time and lack of energy
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating and decision-making
- Feeling worthless and guilty
- Feeling like life isn’t worth living
Most of us will say yes to one or more at various times, but if healthy it passes very quickly.
If you experience four of more of the above AND these three symptoms for more than a week or two, please get help as it is likely you are suffering depression:
- Feeling unhappy and miserable and crying regularly.
- Complaining to others about feeling sad or empty.
- Lost a sense of interest and enjoyment in your life.
Learning about depression
A stressful incident might trigger depression, but there may be no obvious reasons at all. Women generally suffer more and genetic links can play a part. It is more common in teenagers, elderly people and menopausal women and is related to certain medical conditions. People who worry a lot, or are sensitive to criticism, and are very self-critical are the personality types more likely to be depressed.
If you are depressed?
Healthy eating and exercise is always helpful. Minimise stress if you can. The best thing to do is seek professional help – and help may be simple and effective, especially in mild conditions.
Sometimes depression can be treated without drugs; for others, specific drugs can assist. Ask for specific advice and if you don’t like the professional person you went to see, find someone you do like and respect. And when you are ready, find the right person or people at work to tell.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.