Four hidden impacts of depression in the workplace

At any given time in the United States, an estimated 1 in 10 adults report symptoms that would qualify for a diagnosis of depression.1 Although most of us are familiar with the most noticeable impacts of depression, a number of hidden impacts still can affect a workplace as a whole for weeks, months or even years, without becoming obvious.

Procrastination and missed deadlines
One of the most misunderstood impacts of depression is how much a person’s day-to-day ability to plan, execute, and complete tasks can be affected. Many people who struggle with depression know what they need to do to get moving again — it’s just difficult for them to do so. This can present itself in the workplace in the form of projects that aren’t completed, or sometimes, not even started. A depressed employee may sit in front of her or his computer, struggling to work.

Difficulties with memory and learning
Many people with depression report feeling as though they’re unable to remember things they used to recall with no problem. Job tasks and routine processes become a burden as the employee tries to do something that used to come easily. Frustrations can mount and further interfere with memory and learning.

Team morale
Another fact about depression that many may not understand is that not everyone with depression looks depressed. An employee may manage to put on a “game face” while at work but could still experience the lagging productivity, reduced effort and lack of desire that depression often can bring. In some ways, this “game face” may make it more difficult for co-workers to realize an employee is suffering. Rather than see someone who is clearly in need of help, co-workers instead see a fellow worker who is not pulling his or her own weight. This can have a dramatic impact on the morale and productivity of others.

Hypersensitivity and withdrawal
For some people with depression, just being in the workplace can hurt. Lights feel brighter, sounds feel louder; everything is overwhelming. A formerly sociable and outgoing employee might subtly begin to step back from office activities or even request a move to a more quiet location. These changes can come very slowly sometimes as the employee does what he or she feels is necessary to “survive” at work. Again, this can have a big impact on productivity and overall health of the office.

Of course, the presence of any of these do not immediately signal a depressed employee, and not all employees who deal with depression ever do so in a way that affects them on the job. However, by noticing and understanding the hidden impacts of depression, and working to develop office policies that include support and early intervention for employees struggling with mental health conditions, employers can have a very noticeable impact on the overall health and productivity of their workplaces.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Report Depression. Available at: Accessed July 30, 2013.

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