Don’t sweep depression under the boardroom table
A cliché to most of us, “blue Monday” has a completely different meaning to the millions of South Africans who suffer from depression and have to present themselves at work – often trying to hide the very real challenges this illness presents them with every day. But mental health and depression are often swept under the boardroom table …
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects approximately 121 million people worldwide and the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that by 2020 depression will be one of the highest ranking causes of disability in developed countries, second only to ischemic heart disease.
These alarming global stats are certainly reflected in South Africa too. A local medical aid recently reported a 50 percent increase in members diagnosed with severe depressive episodes, without psychotic symptoms, in 2013.
It is believed that in South Africa one in five people are affected by mental illness. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression – an illness that still has an unfortunate stigma attached to it. There are, without doubt, many people suffering undiagnosed and without access to help.
“Undiagnosed depression in the workplace is known to have a substantial effect on productivity, absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’ – which is the loss of productivity due to working while having health or personal issues, instead of taking time off work because of the fear of reprimand, discipline or dismissal,” explains Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions, a leading staffing solutions company.
Knowing how to identify the signs of depression is the first step towards getting help. Symptoms of depression in the workplace can include:
• Impaired concentration;
• Increased and unusual mistakes and poor work quality;
• Decreased productivity;
• Withdrawal and declining participation in team or group activities;
• Lack of enthusiasm; and
• Increased sick leave.
“The cost of depression in a workforce is both tangible and intangible; the negative impact on staff morale, energy levels, teamwork, enthusiasm and compromised contribution to innovation, creativity and motivation has a ripple effect and, if left unchecked, will certainly result in visible business costs. Poor productivity, poor customer service, lost work hours and damage to the brand are only some of the costs directly linked to this illness when it manifests in the workplace,” says Vittee.
Employers can help by investing in wellness programmes and/or initiatives that are both preventative and curative. These include:
• Encouraging a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise;
• Breaking down the stigma associated with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety;
• Educating staff on how to identify the symptoms in themselves and co-workers;
• Ensuring that the human resources department and management are informed and equipped to offer advice;
• Providing access to relevant advice and organisations, as well as having a resource of specialised treatment facilities and professionals; and
• Communicating the fact that 80 percent of people with depression can be successfully treated.
In a recent Gallup survey done in the United States, it was found that part-time workers were more likely to be affected by depression than full-time workers; 16,5 percent opposed to 12 percent.
“This marked difference should inform companies’ decisions when choosing a staffing partner. They should look for both experience in handling different industries and job types that are in the high-risk category for this illness (such as night-shift work and handling of customer dissatisfaction) and the ability to offer effective wellness programmes and initiatives that educate and provide access to information and help.
“A company that invests in a healthy workforce will be rewarded with better productivity and will be more profitable than one that is of the opinion that the personal and health challenges of its staff are not its concern. A philosophy of open communication in addressing of issues builds healthy relationships with both staff and clients,” concludes Vittee.