So what is depression, and more importantly - what on earth do you do with someone who is struggling with depression?
Now I've actually been quite nifty and roped in a lovely HR Consultant - Kay Heald to help me out with this blog to give a different perspective. If you enjoy the finished article I will do my best to scout out other willing professionals to get involved. While Kay is specifically talking about depression in the workplace - the rest of the article looks at depression overall, also because we don't usually change who we are when we go into different places it's still going to be relevant and worth reading her bits.
So let's get going...
While you may automatically think that depression is scary (and possibly someone with depression even scarier...), this is absolutely not the case. Depression is much the same as any other health complication - once you understand it you can manage it, and equally support someone you know who is struggling with it.
Depression is an extremely important topic because according to the World Health Organisation it will be responsible for more deaths than heart disease and cancer combined by the year 2020 - and that's only 4 years away...
If that's not a big motivator for you here's Kay with her first depression bit:
"Despite there being an abundance of statistics out there about numbers of days lost due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety (e.g., the Labour Force Survey 2014/15 suggests 9.9 million days were lost), I suspect these figures are actually a lot higher!"
Now before I begin it's important to let you know that supporting someone with depression is hard and has it's own unique challenges - but that does not mean it's impossible. I'm also going to fly in the face of a widespread misconception and let you in on a secret - depression can go away, and never come back. It doesn't have to be a lifelong condition which needs managing. We were all born without depression, it developed due to different life events, and while there is research which suggests a genetic predisposition (some people are more likely to develop it than others), this doesn't mean you will develop depression or that once you get it that's it.
Depression is classed as a 'mood disorder' and is one of the very few mental health difficulties where the definition links very easily with the symptoms.
Symptoms of depression include:
1. withdraws from their social groups (friends, family or co-workers)
2. has a 'depressed' mood regularly (at least 2 weeks straight)
3. has stopped being involved in things they enjoy (i.e., did they used to play football every week and then all of a sudden stopped?)
4. is struggling to sleep at night, or sleeps all the time but complains of not getting enough sleep
5. has either gained a lot of weight, or drastically lost weight
6. struggles to be motivated to do anything, and a lack of energy (asthenia)
7. struggling to think, or concentrate
8. talking about suicide, or death (not necessarily their own but as topics of conversation)
But - just knowing what the symptoms are isn't always that helpful - here's why:
"According to the Depression Alliance, the first difficulty with depression is that it can be hard to spot at work: there are many different emotional and physical symptoms, no two people experience depression in exactly the same way and it doesn’t differentiate between job roles, grades or seniority. Not only can it be difficult to recognise, but it is also widely misunderstood. Some of the misconceptions I’ve heard about depression include people being viewed as: lazy, hypochondriacs, untrustworthy or incompetent."
Well that's a bit sad isn't it? But unfortunately this is not just true for workplaces but also the same for friends and family. It's actually really unlikely that someone with depression is going to come out and say they are depressed (early on). There is a lot of stigma attached to mental health difficulties still, and often even when pressed we will use a physical difficulty as an excuse.
Here's Kay again - with her wise words of wisdom on the subject:
"From my experience as an HR Consultant and local business owner, people are not ‘open’ and ‘honest’ when it comes to their mental health. And, who can blame them, when our wider society is far more accepting of physical rather than mental illness. I’ve had a number of managers privately admit to me that they’ve used a far more socially acceptable ailment such as ‘the flu’, or ‘an upset tummy from a dodgy curry’ rather than tell their employer they are too ill to come into work because they have depression. "
So what are we saying - well someone with depression might not tell you that's what's going on, they may even say they've stopped playing a sport they loved because of a physical injury it's your job to do a little digging and play detective. The only way you can do this effectively is if you have a great relationship with them beforehand, and know them really well. What your actually trying to do is marry up the symptoms with changes in behaviour. Always have the question at the back of your mind 'what's changed'.
Once you have identified that someone is struggling your going to need to have a lot of patience, and an iron will to help them. Sometimes you will feel like giving up - and that's OK but remember - you just being there can make all the difference. By being a trusted, and positive influence on their life you will be able to help them seek professional support if they need it and keep them motivated when things get tough. While I'm not expecting you to become a world-class counsellor, or psychotherapist overnight the most effective tools in a therapists toolbox are those which revolve around listening - something we are all great at naturally.
And for all you business owners here's a parting comment from Kay - and before you think it's a set up we didn't pay her to say this!
"I think all employers have a responsibility for raising awareness and understanding of mental health issues in the workplace. A good starting point is a well thought out mental health and wellbeing policy that attempts to dispel some of the myths and offers practical and tailored support to those who need help. It has to be led from the top and it can’t just be a pointless paper document. A wellbeing commitment needs to be reflected in an organisation’s way of working and include relevant information-raising and training for managers and employees.
Openness and honesty can be a big ask in today’s pressurised, fast-paced workplaces, but until mental health can be talked about in the same way as physical health, people will continue to hide their true illnesses and hamper their own recovery, damaging themselves and their businesses."
Don't forget to download the free mini depression eBook by clicking the button below. Have a great bank holiday - Katie.