This week people from all over the UK will be helping to raise awareness about depression as part of the 13th Annual Depression Awareness Week (previously called National Depression Week). The Awareness Week was initiated by the Depression Alliance and has been very successful in previous years. This year there will be fundraising and awareness events taking place across the country hopefully resulting in lots of quality coverage in the media. This week’s post is my small contribution to the campaign.
How Widespread is Depression?
According to the Depression Alliance:
- * One in five people suffer from depression at some point in their life.
- * More than 2.9 million people are diagnosed as having depression at any one time.
- * As many as three in four cases are neither recognised nor treated.
- * The World Health Organisation says that by 2020 depression will be second only to chronic heart disease as an international health burden.
- * More than 80% of people with depression can be helped with the appropriate treatment.
Depression and Employment
This year the theme is employment. Many people suffering from depression find it difficult to keep working. Some are signed off on Disability Benefit, others struggle to keep going and keep their jobs. Some employers are supportive and understanding, but not everyone reacts in a sympathetic manner, so it can be difficult to broach the subject. Many fear the stigma that can still be attached to mental health problems and so try to keep their condition secret, making recovery even harder.
‘In almost any workplace – anywhere in the world – the number of employees suffering an undiagnosed mental health problem (probably depression) is 10 to 20 per cent of the total workforce. This is a conservative estimate.
The known prevalence of depression is growing and the average age at which it affects people is dropping, mostly striking people in their prime working years. In 40 per cent of the cases the average age of onset is 20 and the average age overall is 27.’ Depression Alliance
By raising awareness about depression we can help to make employers more knowledgeable about the condition and more sympathetic to employees who are affected.
ACAS, the employment relations organisation, has issued advice to employers and managers ahead of this year’s Depression Awareness Week. They point to research which suggests that almost 3 out of 10 employees will suffer from a mental health problem this year. The financial impact of lost hours and productivity on a company can be significant. They encourage employers to train their managers to spot potential mental health problems and take appropriate action to ensure that employees get help early on, before the problems become more severe. Read more here.
12 Steps to Tackle Depression at Work
The Depression Alliance has also provided guidance on improving mental health strategies at work. The 12 Steps in summary are:
1. Leadership. The business leader (MD, owner etc) needs to understand the importance of this issue in order to provide effective leadership.
2. Financial Incentives. Assess the impact of lost hours/reduced productivity on the business – e.g. cost of hiring temporary replacements, customer complaints, lost sales etc. Then set targets – such as reduced sick days, reduced spend on temporary staff etc. so that you can measure improvement. Achieving these targets will require an early detection strategy.
3. Referral System. The company will need to identify appropriate mental health workers to form their referral team (this could be through an Employee Assistance Programme, a team of local counsellors, etc.). A written policy is needed to ensure that employees are approached sensitively and that the correct support is provided in offering referrals. This should include training for managers and staff (see Step 4).
4. Training. Training is required for managers to help them deal appropriately with someone suffering from a mental health problem. This would include communication skills, spotting potential problems, confidentiality, who to refer to, remaining calm and dealing with situations appropriately etc.
5. Work Environment. Helping to prevent mental health problems developing by ensuring a healthy work environment – reducing stress, employee surveys, listening to staff, healthy work culture, addressing morale issues etc.
6. Tackling Information Overload. Emails can be a significant source of stress if staff feel they must be dealt with immediately and are therefore constantly interrupted. This can be tackled by reviewing the impact of emails/voicemail etc. on staff and consulting them on how to improve matters. Perhaps introducing technical filtering, restricting email delivery to urgent messages only at certain times, training on how to prioritise etc.
7. Understanding Depression. Raising awareness amongst managers and staff of depression as a physical illness, rather than a personal failing. Also of the impact of depression on the physical body e.g. increased risk of stroke and second heart attack, compromised immune system etc.
8. Inventory of Emotional Work Hazards. Understanding what motivates employees to come to work and what makes them want to stay away. Are there chronic customer service problems? Are there constant interruptions? Do managers waste staff time? Is office politics part of the problem?
9. Work-Life Balance Policies. ‘ A chronic imbalance between the work and home lives of individuals is believed to be the root source of one-third of all cases of depression recorded in the United States.’ Depression Alliance Policies to tackle overwork can include changes in work culture, options for part time and flexible working, onsite services (e.g. dry cleaning, pharmaceutical) etc.
10. Rule out Rule. When a person suffers from depression their performance at work may suffer. The Rule out Rule ensures that mental health is ruled out as a possible cause of deteriorating performance before disciplinary procedures are considered.
11. Productivity. Monitoring productivity as an indicator of the mental health of your work force. ‘It is estimated that the “downtime cost” of depression in the U.S. is 172 million person-years based on conservative six-month prevalence rates of the disease…’ Depression Alliance.
12. Eliminate Top 10 Sources of Stress at Work
- Time and Space : stress caused by staff feeling they have to do everything now.
- Make sure employees know what is expected of them.
- Job Fulfilment.
- Sharing Success at work: making sure all members of staff feel their contribution is valued.
- Tackling email and voicemail overload.
- Clarity from the top: where is the company going etc.
- Distributing work wisely so no one is overloaded.
- Listening to others at work: including face to face contact, not just email.
- Feeling included: in consultation, decision making etc.
- Trusting your employees: giving them some control.
You can read the full text here.
Of course the work place is not the only cause of depression, but it is a factor for many people. By raising awareness in the work place and improving working conditions we can help to reduce the occurrence of depression and help those who are affected to recover more quickly.
As a special offer for Depression Awareness Week I am giving away free copies of my Ebook. Just send me an email and I will email you a copy. This week I will also be doubling my usual donation to the Depression Alliance for each paperback copy sold.