How to Talk About Depression at Work
People have started returning to their workplaces after working from home during the pandemic.
The accounting and management consulting firm PwC, reported that many expect to go back to the office during the summer of 2021.
“Executives expect to return to the office faster than employees,” according to a report by PwC. “By July, 75% of executives anticipate at least half of the office workforce will be back on-site. This compares with 61% of office workers, who expect to return to the office for at least half of their time by July.”
What may accompany workers back into the office is unwanted: depression and anxiety. While working from home may enable workers to “hide” the state of their mental health, it’s an entirely different situation when you are face-to-face with your coworkers.
Which brings up an interesting dilemma: Should you talk about your depression or anxiety at work? It’s a different situation for both employees and employers.
If you are carrying the weight of depression or anxiety, you may wonder if sharing your mental health challenges with your employer will work to your advantage or disadvantage. Will your employer adapt to help you? Will telling the truth put your job at risk? What are your rights?
Should I Tell My Boss About My Mental Illness?
While working from home, you may have changed the way you work to balance your job duties with the symptoms of your depression or anxiety. Maybe you take regular naps or sleep in, starting your workday later. Maybe you take breaks throughout the day to meditate, go for a walk, or let yourself cry.
Will these new practices be acceptable once you are back in your office among your co-workers and your boss is within earshot? The shift in work location cannot be an excuse to stop caring for yourself. How, then, do you practice self-care without putting your reputation or your job at risk? Consider talking with your human resources department or checking your employee handbook.
Transitioning Back to Working in an Office
In The Muse, Betsy Aimee, author of the blog, Eastside Career Chic, says that in the midst of a severe depression, she struggled with how to stay on top of her job responsibilities. She offers some suggestions based on how she was able to continue functioning at work while she was depressed:
- “Get Help.” Treatment, such as talk therapy and antidepressants, can provide relief for your symptoms, which, in turn, can make it easier to manage your professional life.
- “Find Support.” It is important to find friends or family who you can talk to about your depression. A work friend might help make those tough days easier to manage.
- “Set Clear Goals.” “I would create lists for the day and highlight my top priorities, which would ensure that I was meeting the needs of my most important audience – my boss,” Aimee says. “I would also double check any important memos, give myself extra time to prepare assignments, and have a colleague give my work a second look if I was having a rough week.”
- “Take Care of Yourself.” Taking care of yourself will help you succeed in your job. The company will benefit from a happier employee. “Find your village of support and don’t ever feel the need to suffer in silence,” Aimee says.
Employers can be in a challenging situation. If you expect an employee may be suffering mentally, you may not be sure how or if you should get involved. There are many questions: How is their illness impacting how they do their job? What are their rights as employees? Are there things you can do to help your employee and your business at the same time?
Company Culture and Mental Health
According to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, major depressive disorder (MDD) costs employers and the American economy in multiple ways, including direct costs, suicide-related costs, and workplace costs. Direct costs include medical services and prescription drug costs, while workplace costs include costs related to missing work (absenteeism) and reduced productivity while at work (presenteeism). According to the study, the economic burden of depression was more than $210 billion in 2010.
“[Mental health] treatment has been shown to improve productivity and effectiveness on the job,” according to the Working Well toolkit, but two-thirds of people who need help do not get it. Often, they don’t seek help because of stigma, shame, and fear it will put their job at risk.
A Forbes article by Kelly Greenwood, founder and CEO of Mind Share Partners, discusses how the past year has made clear that mental health is an issue that needs to be championed by leaders. Greenwood provides three ways to champion workplace mental health:
- “Make Mental Health Part of Company-Wide Leadership.”
Leaders set workplace culture. Guru Gowrappan, CEO of Verizon Media, advises leaders to be transparent about the company’s emphasis on supporting the mental health of their employees. “People have to feel they can be their whole selves,” he says.
- “Embed Mental Health into Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies and Vice Versa.”
Leaders can take responsibility for promoting a company culture that listens to all people. Robert Gill, human resources partner at Square, who is a white male, admits his discomfort about talking about his mental health at work. “If someone like me who’s in a place of privilege and works in HR still has fear around disclosing, you can imagine how folks in other communities might be feeling,” he says.
- “Foster Safety Through Employee-Led Mental Health Initiatives.”
The 2019 Mind Share Partners’ Mental Health at Work report states that many employees don’t trust senior leaders and HR when it comes to opening up about their mental health. For this reason, employee-led initiatives could make it easier for many employees to start a conversation around mental health. Executive buy-in improves the likelihood that employee-led initiatives will be successful. “Ultimately, without the advocates and leadership team, nothing will get done,” says Kate Busby, senior marketing manager at Best Buy.
Greenwood writes in the Forbes article that, “now is the time for all leaders – from the C-suite to those leading employee resource groups – to lead with empathy, to build trust, and to open the door for others to do the same.”
Learn more about depression in the workplace by reading these blog posts:
This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
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