Depression in the workplace

Statistically, depression affects one in every four people in South Africa. That means that the daily lives of more people than we probably expect are affected in varying degrees. Which begs the question: Why is depression still a taboo subject among many, especially in the workplace?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a large impact on those with pre-existing mental health conditions and has seen many more developing depression due to financial stress and an uncertainty of what the future holds. If you suffer from cognitive symptoms of depression, as discussed below, you may find it difficult to be productive, whether working from home or at your place of work.

Just like any disorder, you can’t just “snap out of” depression. You need the correct diagnosis, treatment and support from your workplace so that you may be able to perform optimally.

Cognitive symptoms of depression

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) states that, besides depression affecting how you feel and behave, it may also influence your thinking. You may have trouble concentrating, and are easily distracted, forgetful and indecisive. This directly affects your productivity, as well as other areas of your life. Other symptoms include negativity, problem-solving difficulties and struggling to express your thoughts. The cycle may be vicious as feelings of incompetence begin to affect you negatively too. You may withdraw from your colleagues and/or book sick leave often.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you suspect that you have depression, it’s best to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to determine the best treatment for you. Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for treatment too, depending on the cause and severity of your depression.

Medication may be prescribed to relieve symptoms and you may also benefit from seeing a mental health professional. If you suffer from severe depression, a hospital stay may also be recommended.

Workplace support

Many fear being demoted or losing their jobs if they disclose their depression at work. However, South African law states that if you have a mental health condition, you should not be discriminated against.

As your employer is legally responsible for your wellbeing at work, don’t be afraid to speak to your line manager or human resources department. Together, you may be able to find solutions, such as flexible work hours, to alleviate anxiety.

It’s also important that all employees are made aware of and educated regarding depression and how it can affect productivity. Employees with depression should be encouraged and supported without bias by their colleagues to seek treatment.

Bestmed employee mental wellbeing

Bestmed Medical Scheme recently launched the Wellbeing of Heartbeats (WfH) initiative, aimed at understanding employees’ concerns and experiences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also aims at addressing fears and concerns, and facilitates working together as a cohesive unit towards a safer, stronger and adaptable organisation despite challenging circumstances. As an initial step, employees were asked to complete a brief survey designed to assess how the pandemic has affected employees’ wellbeing to address concerns regarding adapting to a changing work environment.

The second step will involve virtual team debriefing sessions, using the collective group results. Lastly, there will be voluntary individual debriefing sessions conducted by ICAS.

Bestmed wants to encourage all South Africans to mindful of the stigma associated with depression and to create a culture of understanding, acceptance and support, especially in their work environment to promote overall wellness and productivity.

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