Shifting Perspectives: Depression Interventions in the Workplace

In his seminal work on the Cognitive Theory of Depression, psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Beck,  identified that individuals construct their experiences of depression through habitual patterns of thinking called depressive schemas.

These schemas lie dormant until activated (meaning individuals are already carrying their depressive Beliefs within, not directly caused by events, but triggered by them) by relevant stimuli or negative events, reinforcing the patterns and contributing to the onset of depression.

Identifying signs of depression in the workplace includes observing changes in work behaviour such as withdrawal from social interactions, increased absenteeism, or growing disinterest in work. Low moods, frequent irritability or growing apathy, and physical symptoms like fatigue,  unexplained aches or tiredness despite rest, prolonged anxious or dreadful feelings about reporting to work on Mondays or facing emails. Changes in appearance like neglecting self-grooming for a long time with growing expressions of hopelessness, ‘feeling like a burden’, feelings of worthlessness, or lack of purpose in work or life can further indicate underlying mental health issues. Paying attention to these cues can enable early intervention.

Intervention Strategies at Workplace:

Please Do:

  1. Promote a Workplace Culture for Open Communication: Through dedicated channels, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and Counseling services with trained professionals, Organisations can break down stigmas and barriers. Prioritizing open dialogue around mental health not only supports those in need but also cultivates a culture of empathy, understanding, and mutual support across the entire workforce.
  2. Destigmatize Vulnerability & Failing at Work:  In workplaces where mental health, and experiences of failing & struggling are met with understanding & acceptance rather than shame or judgment, employees feel safer and more inclined to use available resources. Multiple campaigns can help. For e.g., at one time, were running a campaign called ‘There is No Shame in Vulnerability’ to enable teams develop ease with sharing.
  3. Strategies for Managers to Check-in: Individuals who feel depressed often have a very hard time putting failures into perspective and tend to make it about their own worthiness or personal inadequacies if they fail at their jobs alongside their mental condition. This is the kind of awareness training that even managers need to have, so that they can modify their work strategies effectively and signpost to a professional. In our EAP, we developed specific approaches in AltMindShift to enable managers to check in with their teams regularly without overstepping boundaries.
  4. Assessing if a Mental Health Resource is Generally Under-Utilized: If an available employee benefits component like Counseling is under-utilized, that doesn’t mean there are no mental health issues! The reasons could either be that the service is not proving effective for employees and is perhaps needing change or that stigma of reaching out for help has not been addressed periodically & consistently in the Organisation. HR professionals can become great influencers in such initiatives. For e.g., circulating anonymous feedback from employees about their positive experiences with mental health professionals can encourage proactive utilization.
  5. Depression Handbook for Managers: Equipping managers to identify depression & self-harm signs and appropriate steps to show support helps. For example, I have often been asked if it’s okay to directly ask a colleague if they have had thoughts of self-harm when they say they are feeling depressed. Simple answer is, yes. If there is suspicion it is appropriate to ask directly without wasting time.
  6. Creating Space for Work Breaks: While employees are generally positive about breaks and report that they are beneficial for performance, this sentiment is not always shared by managers. This can deter people from recharging. Sometimes, it is managers themselves who struggle at taking efficient breaks and are not addressing it leading to stress in he team and possibly impacting someone already struggling with depression or mental health issues. All the more reasons for Organisations to have efficient EAP Wellbeing & Counseling mechanisms in place.
  7. Enhancing Employee Work-life Balance: Having adaptable schedules, issuing daily “break tickets” allowing employees to take breaks at their own discretion, join meetings from outdoor settings or while walking for remote workers, or allocating a “break budget” for personalizing relaxation spaces with options like indoor plants or yoga mats. These accommodations support well-being and confidence in managing challenges effectively.
  8. Promoting Innovative & Helpful Self-Care Practices Outside of Work: Creating recreational groups which can promote insightful self-care practices in innovative ways can benefit immensely in bringing down negative thinking and  and prioritizing mental health. We have helped with such self-care groups for workplaces through our EAPs.

Please Dont:

  1. Trivialize Emotional Problems:“It’s nothing”, “what’s the big deal to be worrying about it?”, “But what’s the real problem?”
  2. Offer Unqualified Mental Health Advice: Often, managers and HR professionals end up offering unsuitable mental health advice, redirecting discussions to their own experiences instead of actively listening and guiding individuals to professional support. It’s crucial to remember that mental health is health and requires professional assistance, not generic advice, philosophy or personal anecdotes.
  3. Overstep Boundaries: Planning treatment models for employees or spending extra time beyond work hours becoming over involved can make employees uncomfortable and breed ignorance in managers. Guiding individuals to professionals is not merely a procedural task; it requires skill. Mishandling this process can lead to negative perceptions among employees.
  4. Rely Excessively on a Few Group Talks to Save Costs:I can’t stress enough about how group workshops do not lead to the same outcomes as individual sessions. Both have their purpose, targeting competencies & mental faculties differently. Sometimes employees need a private space to vent and work on their issues in a more focused way. At such times, offering them another resilience talk can be overburdening, ineffective to the cause of distress. Recognizing this can help in allocating budgets intelligently rather than cutting costs in wellbeing which benefit Organisations.

In conclusion, with depression and mental health too, a stitch in time saves nine.

 

If you would like to hold a meeting with us on our Employee Wellbeing Programs, simply fill out our Contact Form so we can connect with your Organisation.

If you would like to be added to our weekly Mental Health Newsletter group, please send us a Whatsapp to the number below.

 

Rajita Ramachandram

About the Writer:

Rajita Ramachandram

Founder & Head Psychotherapist (practicing for 15 years)

Corporate Wellbeing Consultant,

Emotional Intelligence Speaker,

Associate Fellow of Albert Ellis Institute, NY, USA,

AltMindShift.

+91-9967035943

 

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