Quick overview on depression in the workplace

Silhouette of woman sitting with hands on head
Part of the Depression in the workplace hub
Brought to you by HRZone.com
Share this content

We have been working with mental health charity Mind on a series of articles exploring mental health in the workplace. Take a look at the full content series today to get insight and advice on how to improve mental wellbeing throughout your organisation.

Right now one in six workers are dealing with a mental health problem – and given how much time we spend at work it’s no surprise that our jobs can impact our wellbeing. In fact, in a poll for Mind, four out of five workers who reported poor mental health said that their work was a contributory factor.

One of the most common mental health problems is depression, affecting one in ten people at any time. With such a prevalence, mental health is a core focus for all employers, no matter how small or large. It’s something no employer can afford to ignore.

What is depression and what causes it?

Depression describes a range of symptoms from a period of low spirits that makes coping with day-to-day tasks much harder, to life-threatening thoughts and behaviour that can make it near-impossible to function.

Pressures in the workplace can both cause and worsen depression.

Someone experiencing depression may find it difficult to be motivated to complete tasks – including seemingly simple things like getting to work on time. They may be irritable, easily frustrated or find it difficult to make decisions.

The nature of depression also means people may be less likely to want to discuss how they are feeling, which can make it difficult to move forward and get support at work, and could also lead others to misinterpret their symptoms as laziness or unprofessionalism.

It’s difficult to say what causes depression and this will vary from person to person, but some things linked to depression include childhood experiences, traumatic life events, other health problems – both physical and mental – a family history of poor mental health, drug or alcohol misuse, lack of sleep and poor diet.

Pressures in the workplace, such as fear of redundancy, poor work-life balance, dealing with difficult people or situations, or unreasonable targets, can both cause and worsen depression.

Supporting staff with depression

Employers needs to be proactive in managing the mental health of all their staff and promoting positive wellbeing. This means having clear processes in place for supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems and tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems.

People with mental health problems contribute 12 per cent of UK GDP, which is nine times more than the costs associated with mental health problems.

Senior leadership and HR teams have a key role to play in creating an open environment where people feel comfortable talking about their mental health. You could think about internal awareness-raising campaigns and signing the Time to Change employer pledge to help do this.

Tips for line managers

Line managers also play a key role, and need to be supported in order to provide the most effective support for their employees’ mental health. At Mind, we provide training for line managers that help to equip them with the skills and confidence required, but fundamentally good people management and open communication are key. The rules of thumb are:

  • Encourage people to talk by creating an environment where staff can feel comfortable disclosing a mental health problem.

  • Focus on the person, not the problem – everyone’s experience will be different.

  • Avoid making assumptions on how depression will affect someone’s ability to do a job.

  • Respect confidentiality, not least because a breach of trust could negatively impact on someone’s mental health.

  • Respond flexibly – mental health problems affect everyone in different ways and at different times in their lives. Adapt your support to suit the individual.

  • Agree on practical steps to support someone’s mental health. You might want to consider developing a Wellness Action Plan.

Always remember that a person with depression is still the same asset to your organisation. Even if someone is off work due to depression, it’s important to maintain regular contact about how they are and what can be done to help them return to work. Discussing this in advance also provides reassurance that their contribution is valued and that their mental health is important.

People with mental health problems contribute 12 per cent of UK GDP – nine times more than the costs associated with mental health problems, and with the right support people with depression can manage their condition and thrive for organisations of all shapes and sizes.


About Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo is Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind. Emma joined Mind in 2007 and, since 2010, has led Mind’s campaigning for mentally healthy workplaces - playing a pivotal role in thought leadership to position mental health in the workplace as a key priority for employers and Government.

Emma has led culture change through engagement with employers, health and safety professionals, HR audiences and Government on mental health in the workplace and back-to-work support for people with mental health problems. She also supports networks of employers and stakeholders to share best practice and develop business-to-business peer support. Emma has worked in the disability sector since 2005 and previously worked for Mencap, the learning disability charity.


Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.