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Depression at Work

“The Department of Health and the Confederation of British Industry, using different definitions, estimate that between 15% and 20% of employees will experience some form of mental health difficulty during their working lives, with depression representing the largest percentage of this problem.”

(British Occupational Health Research Foundation report)

Depression affects 1 in 10 of us at any one time. It describes a range of emotions that range from low feelings to suicidal thoughts or behaviours

Clinical depression is not just feeling a bit fed up – it is a serious illness.

Left untreated it can become acute and can result in more severe conditions such as Bipolar or Psychosis. If picked up quickly it can be successfully treated and the individual can go on to lead a happy, productive life.

Causes of depression at work:

A study in 20131 found, perhaps surprisingly, that causes of workplace depression have nothing to do with the amount of work and stress an employee has.

The study found that those surveyed who had high levels of cortisol (cortisol is released during times of stress) were actually less likely to be depressed.

The cause of workplace depression is instead believed to be caused by an employee’s sense of justice in the workplace – how well they feel heard by managers and the degree to which they feel people are treated equally in the workplace. Whilst this is only one study, it does suggest that depression in the workplace is not simply due to workload.

How do I know if my employee has depression?

There are some common signs to look out for in your employees:

  • Tiredness / exhaustion
  • Withdrawing socially
  • Being distracted and not completing tasks
  • Lack of motivation and lethargy
  • Tearfulness
  • Increase absence from work
  • Irritability
  • Physical complaints such as head, stomach and muscle aches

Mental health conditions are invisible and as an employer you might not know your employee has a problem until it is too late. It is always much better to identify a problem before it has got to the stage where the member of staff is too sick to be at work.

What can be done to help a depressed employee?

Talking to your employee if you have concerns is the first step to understanding what the problem might be.

Following a full assessment, the occupational health advisor will send you a report, advising you if there is an underlying health issue and what needs to be done to put an appropriate treatment plan in place.

The report will also advise on whether the employee is fit to work and what adjustments, if any, would help. If the employee is unfit for work, the occupational health lead will advise on possible time scales and help you manage their return to work plan.

To find out more about how we can help you please contact one of our experienced Occupation Health Advisors on 0203 761 7027 or

1 Grynderup, M et al. Occupational Health Medicine 2013 (June); 70(6): 380-5

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