Held every year on April 7, World Health Day is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to mobilize action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world.
The 2017 theme is combating depression, with the slogan “Let’s Talk.”
Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life and in all countries, according to WHO’s free campaign essentials for World Health Day. Depression creates fallout in all aspects of a person’s life, even on the job.
“It causes mental anguish and impacts people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living,” according to WHO.
The goal of World Health Day 2017 is to promote a better understanding of what depression is and how it can be prevented and treated, as well as reduce stigma associated with the condition.
Celebrating World Health Day is an opportunity to help your workforce be more mindful of depression in the workplace. It’s a chance to connect with your team, start a conversation on employee wellbeing, and do activities together for better mental and emotional health. World Health Day also fits well with another awareness-raising initiative happening in April, Stress Awareness Month.
Why Depression is a Workplace Concern
Depression is a costly drain on American companies. It’s also surprisingly common, particularly among part-time workers.
According to Gallup research, 11 percent of full-time workers say they have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life. Among part-time employees, it’s 16.5 percent. At any given time, 6.1 percent of all U.S. workers are currently being treated for depression.
Depressed workers report missing weeks of work annually due to poor mental health. Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among adults 15 to 44 years old, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
All together, one in eight U.S. workers has been diagnosed with depression, missing an estimated 68 million additional days of work each year than their counterparts who have not been depressed.
Depression is devastating for employees and employers alike. Gallup estimates a cost of more than $23 billion in lost productivity annually to U.S. employers.
Are employees on your team grappling with emotional health issues? According to Forbes, telltale signs of a depressed employee include:
- increasing frequency of sick days or absences for other reasons
- loss in motivation
- abrupt changes in social behavior
- forgetfulness and trouble concentrating
- increased errors
- excessive yawning and other signs of lethargy
Keep in mind that depressed employees may be hesitant to disclose a diagnosis or admit to a health problem.
“The stigma surrounding depression is not what it was a generation ago (thanks to greater public awareness and the mainstreaming of antidepressants), but it remains strong enough that most depressed employees would probably hesitate to reveal their condition to bosses and coworkers for fear of being marginalized professionally or being seen as weak,” according to the Health article “Depression in the Workplace: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”
Whether employees feel comfortable discussing mental health with a boss or HR depends on your company culture. More companies are realizing the benefits of opening these lines of communication, with the ultimate goal of helping employees get the help they need so health issues are no longer a distraction.
“Employers are increasingly aware that promoting employee mental health is good for business,” according to Health. “A happy employee is more productive, so it makes sense for employers to help people in need of services to find those services.”
Start a Conversation with Employees: “Let’s Talk”
Your job as an employer is not to diagnose or control treatment.
“Rather than be controlling, employers should provide a supportive environment,” Alberto Colombi, corporate medical director at Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries, tells Health. PPG Industries employs 34,000 and has been recognized for its commitment to employee mental health.
Help build that supportive environment this week by encouraging managers, supervisors and other workplace leaders to start a conversation with employees about mental health.
Be inspired by Psychology Today’s Joni Johnston to start this conversation one-on-one:
1. Make the first move
“Most depressed employees would rather eat dirt than admit to their managers that they’re depressed,” Johnston writes. Some of this fear is justified: “For every story I’ve heard about a supportive manager or caring HR professional, I’ve heard ten from employees who felt their disclosure led to being teased, overly scrutinized, or discriminated against.”
So make the first move. Let the employee know you’re there to listen and assist them in finding help, if they need it.
2. Show concern and empathy
Share your concerns openly but base them on observable or documented behaviors like tardiness, customer complaints or increased absences or work errors.
Be sure to acknowledge these problems as changes in behavior, not the norm: “This isn’t like you. You’re normally the first in to work and the last person in the department to make mistakes.”
3. Share information
Provide information to the employee about health benefits, including resources like your company’s employee assistance program, or point them to outside professional counseling or a community clinic. Give them time to consider and ask questions.
4. Reinforce need for improvement
Keep the conversation focused on how much you’re invested in helping the employee get back on track. Offer your ear but do not push the employee to discuss or disclose anything that may make them uncomfortable. Ultimately, this is about their work performance and not their personal life.
5. Express gratitude
End your talk by thanking the employee for having what was probably a difficult conversation for them. Remember you are there to support, so reiterate how much you value them as an employee. Share your appreciation for their past accomplishments.
World Health Day in the Workplace for Everyone
Beyond one-on-one conversations with individual employees, seek to start a workplace-wide conversation on depression this week for World Health Day.
The World Health Organization has free educational materials to help organizations observe World Health Day, including posters, logos and quick facts on depression in multiple languages.
Activity suggestions include discussion forums, sporting events, art competitions, coffee mornings, concerts, sponsored activities — “anything that contributes to a better understanding of depression and how it can be prevented and treated.”
“Think about involving your organization’s champions, especially if they are influential among those you are trying to reach.”
Your company can also join in the greater World Health Day conversation happening on social media. Get involved by using the hashtags #letstalk, #depression and #mentalhealth.
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“In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day — or to celebrate each special day.” – Rasheed Ogunlaru, coach and author
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