Unhappy holidays: Identifying depression in the workplace

Rebecca Weitzel
Rebecca Weitzel

Holiday decor and store displays remind us the holiday season quickly approaches. While this time of year offers a wonderful source of cheer, the holidays increase feelings of sadness and despair for some.

We all experience the blues once in a while. But feelings that persist two weeks or more or those that interfere with such everyday activities as concentration, eating, sleep and work or the desire to participate in once-enjoyed activities could be caused by depression.

Depression is a very real and complex health condition that can affect anyone, even those who might otherwise seem to have it all together. In fact, one in four women and one in eight men experience depression at some point in their lives. Depression can be triggered by a combination of such factors as biochemistry, genetics and environment. Regardless of the cause, the most important thing to know about depression is that it’s treatable.

The first step to treating depression is acknowledging it. To acknowledge it, we must understand what it looks like. Since many of us spend a significant number of hours at work, employers and co-workers can help tackle depression by learning how it can manifest itself in the workplace. Here are some examples:

An employee suffering from depression could experience slowed thoughts and difficulty concentrating, which might be expressed as deteriorating work quality or an increase in awareness-related accidents on the job.

Unusual forgetfulness also could be a sign of depression. You might see this exhibited by a team member as missed deadlines or decreasing dependability.

Depression can cause some people to struggle with making decisions. This might lead to procrastination, indecisiveness and slowed productivity in the workplace.

Reduced interest and low motivation are hallmarks of depression. Presenteeism — showing up, but not engaging at work — could be an indication someone is struggling with depression.

While not true for everyone, men tend to express feelings of depression as increased irritability and anger. Women could become tearful or easily upset. When depression shows up in these ways, you might begin to see weakening relationships among co-workers, poor customer service or low morale.

Depression could cause significant sleep disturbances. If you notice someone is suddenly frequently late to work or having difficulty staying alert, these might be signs that he or she is struggling with depression.

Once depression is understood and acknowledged, it’s essential for employers and co-workers to offer support to those who might be suffering. People with depression have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even Alzheimer’s disease. They’re also at an increased risk of dying by suicide. Co-workers could be the first people to recognize the signs before such tragedies as these occur.

If you suspect a team member, loved one or yourself might be depressed, reach out right away with offers of concern and support. Offer information about your organization’s Employee Assistance Program or other mental health coverage that might be available. Bring in experts from the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation (683-6626) or other mental health organizations for suicide prevention training and educational seminars on depression. If you or someone you know is in crisis, encourage them to call the National Crisis Lifeline at 1 800 273-8255 or call 911 if you believe they are in immediate danger of harming themselves or others.

This holiday season, let’s spread more than fleeting holiday cheer in our workplaces and community. Let’s work together to ensure those suffering from depression have the support and resources they need to be safe and well. Let’s give the gift of hope that lasts a lifetime.