How to cope with depression in the workplace

Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

We all feel depressed every now and then, but if depression has become your daily struggle you’re not alone. According to the 2016 IDEA study of the London School of Economics and Political Science, depression costs South Africa more than R232bn due to absenteeism and presenteeism (when people attend work unwell).

Dr Sebolelo Seape, chairperson of the Psychiatry Management Group says that, “With more than 9,7% of the South African population (or 4,5 million to be exact) suffering from depression, the chances are quite real that the person sitting next to you in the office is at some stage in their lives of coping with the condition. It’s not only the duty of the individuals suffering from mental health issues but also organisations and colleagues to fight the stigma associated.”

Seape adds that, “depression causes problems with memory, procrastination, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fear and panic which will add to work-related stresses, crippling the output from the employee.”

Here’s what you can do:

· Avoid taking days off to just sit at home when you know you’re not well. Seek professional help. It could be as simple as speaking to your GP, who may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

· Find out if there is an employee wellness programme on offer. Some employers offer support for employees going through depression. It may be counselling or a few sessions with a psychologist.

· “Although depression (except in severe, chronic and debilitating cases) is not a disability, it can cause impairment at work and have an impact on daily life from sleeping to work, concentrating, regulating emotions, or caring for oneself and needs to be addressed via the correct channels,” advises Dr Seape. You need to work together with your medical doctor and psychiatrist to determine the best treatment and how to manage your time off, special needs required at work or flexible working hours.

· “By discussing the issues with your line-manager or Human Resources department and finding out the options available to you might alleviate a lot of the anxiety associated with depression whilst working,” adds Dr Seape.

· The Employment Equity Act protects employees with mental health conditions. Should your depression be too severe, affecting your work and your entire life, you may be able, together with your doctor and HR department, to seek ‘reasonable accommodation’ or even disability benefits. It all depends on your diagnosis, treatment, and what the company can offer in terms of accommodating you.

 Dr Seape says, “if depression is continuously seen as a weakness and something that people make up to receive special treatment or paid days off work, or those suffering fear for their jobs, then neither the stigma associated with neither depression nor the lack in productivity and loss in revenue will change.”

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