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Managing employees experiencing depression and anxiety PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Marnie Wright   
Thursday, 05 January 2006
Fall marks one of the busiest (and most stressful) seasons at our place of work and demands on yourself and staff is likely to peak at this time of year.  There is an elusive connection between an individual experiencing workplace stress and the occurrence of anxiety related illness and depression. This article will explain the key indicators of anxiety disorders and depression, and offer some tips for managers who have employees experiencing these symptoms.

Understanding Anxiety

Stress isn't an illness and in itself isn't even necessarily harmful. Unfortunately, reactions to stress can vary widely and can result in crippling anxiety for some. Twenty-five percent of the population will suffer from some type of anxiety disorder during their lives. Anxiety disorders ar e the most treatable of all mental disorders with 80% who undergo cognitive behaviour therapy report recovery after a year.

Types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic worrying, nervousness and exaggerated fears. It is usually accompanied by physical symptoms that may include headaches, shaking, twitching, hot flushes, breathlessness, dizziness, nausea or insomnia. Social Anxiety Disorder is noted by an extreme fear of being humiliated or 'shown up' in front of others. Obsessive compulsive disorder results in continual unwanted thoughts and rituals that the sufferer has no control over.

Understanding Depression

Approximately one million Canadians suffer from some form of a depressive illness. Over a lifetime 12% of men and 24% of women experience at least one major depression episode.  Less that one third of people seek assistance from a doctor, despite the fact that treatment is successful in 70-80% of people who seek help. Depression is caused by a variety of issues, including traumatic life events, the impact of their own personal style (often introverted, dependent, high worriers, untrusting or inflexible), genetics,  the a bsence social support or sometimes just an imbalance of brain chemistry which comes on without a preceding traumatic event.
Symptoms of depression may include: reduced interest or pleasure in activities, changes in appetite, weight and sleep patterns, sad, dark mood, a feeling of lethargy, fatigue or restlessness, difficulty concentrating, feeling that life is purposeless and empty, irrational feelings of guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide.

What can you the manager do to support employees better?

We have a number of employees on extended absences related to anxiety and depression related illnesses, and I can offer a trend that occurs in some, but not all cases.  Departments where there is a combination of high stress activity and unresolved employee relation problems seem to have significantly higher numbers of employees on leave for depression/anxiety.  Workplace stress is rarely the only factor in an individual?s illness. Usually there is a combination of personal issues, coupled with a highly stressful work environment and together the situation is more then some individuals can handle.
If we look at the statistics and compare it to our averages, most employees do not take time off when they are experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms.  Many continue to work and the workplace can be a source of support, both from services offered by Employee Family Assistance and Medical Services.   This is important because there is statistical evidence that shows for each extended absence from work due to depression, there is an exponential increase in the likelihood of the illne ss reoccurring.  So every time the employee is off on sick leave (for depression), chances off them going off yet again goes up by approximately 20%.   Returning to work after such an absence is emotionally traumatic, and so the duration of the absence also tends to be extended each time the employee books off sick.

So what can you do?

  • Talk to the employee, describe your observations and express your concern for their health and encourage the employee to see their family doctor (your HR Advisor can assist with approach/wording).
  • Share information about the Employee Family Assistance Program
  • Assess the level of stress within your operation, are their unresolved issues contributing to a high stress environment?
  • Take action to resolve the issues bubbling within you area, and if you need support call either your HR Advisor.

  • Try to accommodate employees pursuing a regular exercise program.  Exercise aids the release of endorphins, which contribute to a feeling of well being and encourages healthy sleep patterns.
  • Ensure that employees take breaks, especially lunch breaks so that they have time to follow a balanced, nutritio us diet (as it contributes to the recovery process).
  • Employ strategies to reduce the overall stress level within your department, by building effective business process and recognizing both efforts and achievements.  This hopefully creates an environment where the employee can continue to work while receiving treatment for their illness.
Last Updated ( Monday, 09 January 2006 )