Depression can be a devastating and long-term illness that afflicts workers in all types of employment.

1 in 6 workers deals with mental health problems such as anxiety, stress or depression. With these stats increasing, every company will at some stage experience mental health issues among staff and this is something that they cannot afford to ignore.

One of the greatest challenges facing employers in an environment where staff numbers are reduced and when performance and productivity levels need to higher than before is how to deal with stress and anxiety among staff before depression takes hold.

Identifying early signs of depression will assist in getting employees well by acquiring the support they require. Here are some ways HR can help :


Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


Encourage people to talk

Create an environment that your employees feel comfortable in addressing any issue. Let them know that there is always an open door if they ever need to talk, raise awareness about well being in the workplace as not everybody is aware that stress and anxiety can lead to depression.

Remember everyone’s experience of mental health problems is different. Focus on the person, not the problem and ask open questions about their triggers for distress and what support they need.

Avoid making assumptions

Don’t try and guess an employees symptoms and how it will affect their ability to do their job. Many employees can suffer symptoms of depression and still perform their role to a high standard. Do however keep an eye out for symptoms and make your employees aware that you are there to talk if they need to.

Respect confidentiality

Always remember that mental health information is highly confidential and sensitive. Do not pass on any information unnecessarily as this breach of trust could impact in a negative way to a person’s mental health. Treat the issue with the utmost respect and assure your employees that any issues discussed will remain confidential.

Respond flexibly

Mental health problems affect everyone in different ways and at different times in their lives, adapt your support to suit the individual. Developing a personalised action plan can help.

The plan should cover:

  • the impact of the individual’s mental health problem on performance
  • workplace triggers and early warning signs
  • steps for both department manager and employee to take

Workplace Adaption 

If someone is experiencing a mental health problem such as depression they may need the employer to make adjustments. Often this is about changes to attitude and culture rather than a costly intervention. Typical adjustments include:

  • Flexible hours or change to start/finish time
  • Change of workspace
  • Return-to-work policies such as a phased return
  • Changes to a role which can be temporary or permanent
  • Changes to break times perhaps splitting the lunch hour into three 20 minute blocks
  • Increased support from managers to help prioritise and manage workload
  • Provision of quiet rooms to take some time out if needed

Returning to work plan

If someone is off from work due to a mental health problem, it’s important to maintain regular communication about how they are and how they can come back. A return-to-work plan allows you to explore any adjustments to their role or support measures that you could put in place. Discussing these in advance also provides reassurance to the employee that their contribution is valued and that their needs will be met on their return

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