Supporting Employees with Depression: From Awareness to Action

Did you know that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide?

Despite this well-documented fact, many employers and managers are still unsure how to support employees with depression. This blog post is inspired by our work with businesses and individuals who have employees, co-workers, or loved ones impacted by depression, anxiety, or difficult life situations. Common questions we encounter include: “How much should I push them?” “Should I leave them alone?” or “How do I talk to them about their work performance without making things worse?”

The Widespread Impact of Mental Health Issues

Although statistics show that 1 in 5 people struggle with a mental health concern, the reality is that mental health impacts approximately 9 out of 10 of us. Whether you’re an employer, friend, or loved one, you are likely affected by someone else’s depression or mental health struggle. This often leads to feelings of being overburdened, resentful, worried, or guilty. As a caregiver or employer, you might find yourself constantly questioning the “right” way to provide support while balancing your own needs and responsibilities.

Recognizing Your Own Reactions

It’s important to recognize how another individual’s depression can significantly affect you. Reflect on your feelings and reactions—they are valid and need to be addressed. Frustration, annoyance, or worry are legitimate emotions and are okay to acknowledge. Research and clinical experience have shown that everyone benefits when these feelings are understood, recognized, and acted upon. For example, studies have found that individuals can start feeling down after just a short interaction with someone who is depressed. This highlights why addressing mental health in your home or workplace is crucial and not just an extra “fringe” benefit. We all impact each other, and the healthiest organizations and families take care of their own mental health needs while encouraging all members to do the same.

Practical Tips for Supporting Mental Health

Here are several tips that may help you, your family, or your team members navigate the journey of mental health:

1. Have Realistic Expectations

Mental health concerns will not magically disappear on their own. Research indicates that the best treatment is a combination of medication and talk therapy. Medication helps the brain produce necessary chemicals, while talk therapy helps individuals examine how their thoughts impact their feelings and behaviors.

2. Share Your Feelings

Express your concern about their wellbeing. Focus on observable changes, such as missing deadlines, decreased performance, or excessive absenteeism.

3. Ask for Help

Human Resource professionals are often asked about these topics and can be an excellent first line of support. They have access to knowledge on benefits such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can help the individual find a path to improved wellness.

Guidelines for Constructive Communication

For anyone trying to navigate this complex problem on their own, here are some guidelines for constructive communication:

1. Make Time for Communication

Converse in a non-hurried, quiet setting.

2. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Behaviors

More information is communicated through body language than words, especially in mental health situations. Be calm, make good eye contact, and speak in a non-accusatory tone. Visualize healing rather than harming the other person in the conversation.

3. Be Sure to Listen

Often, we think about what to say next instead of simply listening. Hold space just to hear.

4. Be Comfortable with Silence

Allow for silence after asking a question. The brain needs time to process complex emotions. A good rule of thumb is to count to fifteen after asking a question before expecting a response. There is great comfort in being able to sit in silence and project support and understanding.

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about this topic, consider reading When Someone You Love is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself by Laura Epstein Rosen. For those interested in workplace support, the Harvard Business Review article “How to Manage an Employee with Depression” by DeTienne, Hooley, Larrocha, and Reay is also highly recommended.