Depression at work.

Effects of depression on work.

Someone suffering from depression can start to behave out of character, both at home and at work. Other workers or employers may notice that someone is:

Working slowly
Making mistakes more often
Unable to concentrate
Late for work or meetings
Not turning up
Getting into disputes and arguments with colleagues
Unable to delegate tasks
Working, or trying to work, much too hard

Depression can seriously affect someone's ability to work effectively. It may be so bad that he or she will have to stop work completely for a time. When it is not quite that bad, most people will try to soldier on, painfully aware that they are not doing their job as well as they usually do. If someone's depression can be recognised and helped, they will get back much more quickly to their normal performance at work. Much needless unhappiness and suffering can be avoided.

Colleagues at work are often in a good position to notice that a colleague or workmate is becoming depressed. It can be a difficult thing to talk about, but it can be really helpful for someone who is depressed to hear that people are worried about them. It may help them to think seriously about getting some help. We know that the earlier someone consults their family doctor, the quicker and more effective treatment is likely to be. The manager or employer can also help. If the depression is severe they may need to allow their employee to take some time off work, as well as making allowances when they return to work. It is important to remember that most people are able to return to work within a few weeks. Many employees are afraid of talking about their depression because they fear it might affect their job security . This sensitive issue must be handled sensitively and confidentially by the occupational health adviser and the family doctor.

Can unsatisfactory work conditions cause depression?

For most of us, work provides a shape and meaning to our day and gives us the opportunity to make friendships. It can make us feel better about ourselves and is a reminder that other people value us. For most people a steady and rewarding job can really help to reduce the risk of depression. We know that people who have recently been made redundant, or who have been out of work for many months, are more likely to become depressed than those who are able to carry on working.
Work, therefore, has a largely beneficial impact on mental health, but there are circumstances in which it can be less helpful. Although there is little evidence that poor working conditions can directly cause depressive illness, undue pressure and stress at work can combine with other problems, such as difficulties at home or recent unhappy events, and contribute to the development of depression.

Work is generally good for our mental health. However, there are times when it can be harmful. There is little evidence that poor working conditions can directly cause depressive illness. However, pressure and undue stress at work combined with other problems, such as difficulties at home can make depression more likely to occur.

Many surveys have shown that certain kinds of work are more likely to make people unhappy in their workplace. Jobs in which an employee cannot use his or her skills, or which are repetitive, and are the same every day, seem particularly likely to make people fed up with their work. Uncertainty about how well you are performing, or about future changes in employment, can result in feelings of tension and worry. 'Difficult' bosses who bully and criticise will just make things worse. Poor working conditions, such as cramped offices, noisy factories and hot and stuffy shops may make workers tense and stressed.

Employees will feel frustrated if they have no say in the way their work is organised, or if decisions are imposed from above without any discussion. The introduction of new time-saving computer systems has made offices more efficient. At the same time, this often brings pressing deadlines and demands for quicker decisions, which can actually make the work more stressful. It has also changed the way that businesses are organised, which itself affects the people working within them.

What can be done?

Every company should consider developing a mental health policy. This should aim to provide a workplace which tends to prevent depression and which encourages its prompt and effective treatment. This should also improve the overall performance of the organisation and of individual employees. It should reduce the costs of sickness absence, both from physical illnesses and depression.
There are four main areas to consider:

I. Raising awareness.

Everyone in the company can be made aware of the importance of recognising and helping colleagues who may be suffering from depression. This should include every level of the workforce, from the shop floor to senior management. Common ways of doing this include posters, leaflets, or even giving information about depression in appraisal interviews. Everyone needs to understand that positive action can result in great benefits to individuals and the company as a whole.

2. Health education for employees.

Employees can benefit from knowing about mental health and learning how to reduce stress. Time management techniques, assertiveness training, and the use of 'team-building' exercises can protect employees from depression and other conditions. The workforce and management should have information about the early recognition of depression, and the circumstances in which people are most likely to become depressed. It is particularly important to emphasise that depression is unlikely to permanently affect a person's ability to work. This area of a mental health policy should also include discussion of pre-retirement planning, preparing people for life after they eventually leave work.

3. The organisation of the business.

The way in which a business is organised and operates can have an effect on the mental health of its workforce. Important areas include the physical environment, responsibilities of the job, the level of supervision, and how personnel are selected and trained. Thoughtful adjustments can make employees more satisfied with their jobs and may well improve the performance of the business as a whole.

4. Occupational health services.

Occupational Health Services need to be backed by senior management if they are to develop programmes to educate line managers and the workforce about depression. They should also be responsible for recognising and counselling depressed employees, and in helping them to return to work.

Occupational Health staff will have experience of sensitive issues such as workplace confidentiality, job security and the timing of the return to part-time or full-time working. They also know about the particular stresses and strains of the work environment. Occupational Health nurses and doctors are well placed to work closely with family doctors or other specialist employees, whilst being sensitive to the employees' need for confidentiality. Contacts should be established with the local branches of self-help organisations.

The exact form of such a programme depends upon the type of business as well as the size of the organisation. Any company can, however, expect to improve the management of their human resources in this way, often with great benefit to both the company and its employees.

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