Clinical Depression in the Workplace: Co-Existing With Someone Who Has a Major Depressive Disorder

In the workplace, it is important to foster an environment where people can work together successfully and in harmony. An important part of creating that environment is to understand that a workplace is made up of many different kinds of people, each of whom have their own work styles, personalities and challenges.

One challenge that a significant amount of people face is clinical depression. Depression can make it hard for the sufferer to find and keep work. Although they may not exhibit external signs that are immediately indicative that they are suffering from an illness, depression can cause significant challenges in the workplace both for the patient and for their coworkers.

Understanding clinical depression and knowing how to best work with the skills and challenges of a clinically depressed person can be of great assistance to coworkers and managers in this situation. Additionally, recognizing signs that the individual may be in distress is an extremely important aspect of working with a clinically depressed person.

Approximately 6.7% of the American population suffers from clinical depression, and between 20% and 25% will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime, according to WebMD. Symptoms can include an inability to concentrate and make decisions, issues with sleeping too little or sleeping too much, restless or slow behavior, extreme fatigue and finding difficulty taking interest in doing anything.

The percentage rates of people who will consistently face clinical depression or will experience a significant depressive episode are high enough that most people will, at some point in their life, work with someone who is facing clinical depression.

One of the first steps to working successfully with a depressed person is to take a step back and have patience. This person does not want to feel the way that they do. Their mental illness causes them great anguish on a daily basis, and treating them harshly can have a far greater impact than it would on a healthy person. Make a point of talking to the coworker. Do not ask prying questions, but help them find a routine that works for them. Identify tasks that they are especially good at, and make sure to give them gentle praise and reassurance for completing tasks.

Another step that can help a depressed person integrate into a workplace is to encourage them to make decisions. Start small, with decisions that are relatively inconsequential. Let them know that their input is valid and valuable and that they are an important part of the workplace. If they are afraid of making mistakes, talking with them in a joking manner about mistakes others have made when starting out that resulted in a laugh can ease their mind. Include them in employee activities and make them feel welcome, but do not have hurt feelings, act off-put or stop inviting them if they decline invitations at first. People with depression are often socially withdrawn, but as they begin to feel comfortable engaging with their coworkers over time, they may start to come out of their shell.

The most important things to know about working with a depressed person are the warning signs that they are in a steep decline. This could be caused by a personal event, work event, cessation in medication or physiological change. A sudden decline in well being in a depressed person can be a sign of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. If the individual begins missing work regularly, withdraws socially in a very sudden way, begins exhibiting poor hygiene, speaking cryptically about plans they may have or giving away personal items, coworkers have reason to be concerned. If there is reason to believe they will harm themselves, someone must talk to them, no matter how stressful or awkward it may be. The life of that individual may be on the line.

In short, the most important aspects of working with a depressed person are compassion, awareness, and patience. Understand that their mental illness is a disability. One would not expect a man in a wheelchair to stand up and climb the stairs, and in the same way, a depressed person cannot change their brain chemistry with additional effort. Kindness, decency and a functioning team can help to integrate a clinically depressed person into the workplace with no major issues.

Eric Thompson is a guest Blogger for the Guardian Express. He hails from the great State of Texas, where he lives with his two dogs, who help him keep away depression, and squirrels.

You can view his blog here:

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