5 Early Signs of Depression in the Workplace (and How to Deal With It)


Daniel GrovesBusiness Growth Consultant

Monday, November 8, 2021

Depression is one of the most prolific mental health illnesses, affecting 16 million Americans every year. Here are 5 signs your employees could be suffering from it.

Article 5 Minutes
5 Early Signs of Depression in the Workplace (and How to Deal With It)

Depression isn’t just feeling down or having a bad day. according to the American Psychiatric Association, “depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.”

Mental health problems have a significant impact on employees in the workplace. Illnesses such as depression and anxiety tend to cause more absences from work, less engagement and higher employee turnover rates.

In this article, we’ll share how to spot the early signs of depression and how you can help.

Common causes of depression

Being able to spot the early signs of depression in the workplace could change a person’s life. There are many reasons why someone might struggle with depression and there are many different life events or situations that may trigger it.

Experts at Tikvah Lake Recovery suggest learning as much as possible about your depression:

“​​To overcome depression, you must first understand what it is. Is your depression due to something else like an underlying medical condition? Or, do you feel that it’s caused for no reason? By understanding exactly how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling a certain way, you can begin taking measures to overcome it.”

For some, a significant or traumatic event such as a divorce, bereavement or illness may trigger it. While for others, giving birth, undergoing medical treatment, or feeling lonely and isolated may contribute to depression.

Seeking professional treatment for depression is essential for healing. Services such as counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy offer guided support for individuals so they can overcome their symptoms and strengthen their minds.

Early signs of depression in the workplace

Did you know that one third of your life is spent in the office? The symptoms of depression can impact an employee’s function and performance at work, often limiting their ability to cope with day-to-day challenges. Employers must be aware of this and take reasonable steps to offer support and guidance as needed.

Some of the earliest signs of depression in the workplace are as follows.

1. Increased pessimism

Have you noticed that one of your employees who was once so bubbly and enthusiastic is now overly pessimistic? This is a discreet symptom of depression that isn’t often picked up on by others unless they are paying attention.

However, pessimism is extremely common in those struggling with depression. For those struggling with depression, they can experience feelings of ‘depressive realism’ whereby they tend to have a more negative outlook than others. If you have noticed this change in one (or multiple) of your employees, this could be an early sign of depression.

2. Loss of concentration

Losing concentration while at work can cause numerous problems. It can mean employees are less engaged during meetings and more distracted while completing work tasks.

Loss of concentration can be an early sign of depression. When an employee is regularly losing their train of thought, trailing off during conversations or taking an extra-long time to fulfil work responsibilities, this could indicate depression.

3. Change in mood or personality

Noticing a change in an employee’s mood on a regular basis could be a sign that they’re struggling with depression. Feelings of negativity, moodiness and sadness over an extended period of time can indicate people are struggling with their mental health and not, as you may have initially thought, just having a bad day.

4. Frequent fatigue

Have you noticed that your employee is coming into work frequently fatigued? Every now and then isn’t too concerning, but when you are noticing they seem tired day after day, this could be a sign there’s something wrong.

Depression and the symptoms of depression are exhausting for sufferers. Depressed individuals struggle with the symptoms whether they are at home, at work or on holiday. As a result, being able to get good quality rest can be extremely difficult. Therefore, signs of frequent fatigue can be an early sign of depression.

5. Increased absences

Have you noticed an employee taking more time off work? Perhaps they’re taking a sick day every 1-2 weeks or perhaps they are calling in sick even more regularly. Depression is one of the leading causes of absenteeism in the workplace. If you notice an employee taking time off more frequently than normal, this could be a sign they are suffering from depression.

How to help employees with depression

So, you have read some of the most common symptoms above and you think there are employees in your workplace showing early signs of depression - what should you do?

Provide a safe space to talk

It’s not uncommon for employees struggling with mental health issues to feel hesitant about speaking up. This can be due to fear of judgement or simply no opportunity to.

As an employer, it’s important to make reasonable adjustments within the workplace to accommodate and support individuals struggling with depression. Providing them with a safe space to talk is just one of the ways you can do this.

Dedicate an office space or time where employees are welcome to come and talk if they need to. Simply advertising the fact there’s a space available can help employees feel more comfortable about reaching out for help when they need it.

Train up your team

Sadly, mental health stigmas are extremely common and one of the best ways to overcome these is through education. Take the time to train up your team leaders and equip them with the knowledge they need to spot the signs of mental health problems and take appropriate action.

Equipping team leaders and managers with the skills they need to tackle mental health struggles in the workplace is a great way to support those who may be struggling.

Allow for flexible working

Providing the opportunity for employees to work remotely or with flexible working hours can be a great way to support those struggling with depression. As you can tell, depression affects everyone differently and what works for someone may not work for someone else.

As such, providing options like flexible working allows employees to take control of their working hours and create a schedule that works well for them. Flexible working arrangements also make it easier for those struggling with depression to seek the professional help they require.

Daniel Groves

Business Growth Consultant

Daniel Groves achieved a 1st class honours degree in Business Economics. Since graduating, Daniel has collaborated with a number of online publications with the aim to further develop his knowledge and share his experience with like-minded entrepreneurs, business owners and growth strategists.


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