The Mental Health Foundation reports that 1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem (such as anxiety or depression) in the last week. MIND, the UK’s leading mental health charity, says that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

This means it’s likely that some people in your organization have been suffering from a mental health problem at some point. Sadly, unless your company has a robust mental well-being program, the chances are you don’t even know an employee has been struggling.

Depression all too often goes unnoticed at work. In this article, I’ll be addressing the reasons why, how to spot the signs of depression at work, and why employers should do more. First, let’s recap what depression is and some of the signs and symptoms.

What is depression?

Depression, according to MIND, is “a low mood that lasts for a long time and affects your everyday life.

“In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal.”

Feeling down from time to time is normal and isn’t depression, but when feelings of hopelessness and despair take over and won’t go away, it indicates depression. It can interfere with someone’s ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy life.

What are the symptoms of depression?

The symptoms of depression vary from person to person, and can also vary according to age and gender, but common signs and symptoms can include any combination of:

  • Feeling bleak
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and social events
  • Being more self-critical
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Difficulty concentrating and poor memory
  • Change in appetite and weight gain or weight loss
  • Insomnia or excessive sleepiness
  • Low energy
  • Excessive drinking of alcohol or substance abuse
  • Unexplained pains

Why does depression go unnoticed at work?

Depression in the workplace mostly goes unnoticed for five main reasons:

  1. Depression can come and go gradually so the signs can be difficult to spot
  2. There are many different causes and types of depression with a wide range of symptoms
  3. Most people will try to hide the fact that they are suffering from depression, putting on a ‘happy face’ or masking it with other behaviors
  4. There is a culture of NOT talking about mental health in the workplace
  5. Employees are afraid to talk about their problems due to concerns about confidentiality and because they fear to lose their jobs

Not everyone with depression looks sad. Some people hide the fact that they feel low. Hidden depression is relatively common and can manifest in many ways, including irritability and anger.

How to spot depression in the workplace

Given the statistics on the prevalence of mental health problems, depression is not something employers can ignore. Pressure in the workplace can both cause mental health problems or worsen existing ones.

Situations such as poor work-life balance, dealing with difficult colleagues, or struggling with unreasonable targets, can both cause and worsen depression.

People with depression will find it difficult to function properly at work. You may notice a loss of motivation or a lack of enthusiasm. Sloppy work, more mistakes, and missing deadlines may also be a sign something has gone awry.

Commonly, people with depression withdraw from social activities. So if someone who used to be the life and soul at work suddenly declines social events they would typically attend, this could be a warning sign that there is a problem.

Another sign to watch out for is appearance. Depression often leads to a lack of care about appearance. Someone who normally wears make-up may stop bothering to wear it, or attention to personal hygiene may be affected.

One of the most effective ways to address depression in the workplace is to create a culture where people feel comfortable talking about mental health at work. Mental Health First Aiders receive training to spot, help, and support employees who are struggling with mental health problems.

Why employers should be doing more

Poor mental health at work results in increased absenteeism, presenteeism, and lost productivity. Depression, anxiety, and workplace stress costs the economy £34.9 billion per year, equating to £1,300 for every employee in the UK economy.

The UK’s Centre for Mental Health says that by far the highest cost to business when it comes to poor mental health is presenteeism (people who are at work, but unwell), amounting to twice as much as absenteeism. Also, recruitment costs increase as a result of people who leave their jobs because of stress or poor mental health.

People who are experiencing depression are unlikely to want to talk about how they are feeling, so it relies upon employers and colleagues to look out for signs and be proactive in offering support. It is up to employers to start conversations in the workplace about mental health.

In a more trusting environment, employees are more likely to reach out for help. This can be instrumental in preventing a difficult situation from getting worse. An open culture is key.

Ultimately, employers who support the mental health of their employees will benefit from a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. See more on how to introduce a mental health well-being plan here. Depression only goes unnoticed at work when employers don’t care.

Annie Button

Annie Button is a Portsmouth based writer and recent graduate. Annie likes to share her experiences and knowledge through her blog posts and has written for various online and print publications. When she’s not writing Annie enjoys relaxing with a good book. If you're looking for further well-being gift inspiration, take a look at Into The Blue for a relaxing spa break. Twitter: Annie Button