Wednesday, October 31, 2007

When the Blues Won't Go Away

I've written about hundreds of workplace issues over the years, but one of the subjects that brought in the most mail when I wrote about it more than a decade ago was a column on depression.

In the story, I outlined some signs of depression that may be evident on the job. The mail flooded in -- not only from those who believed they recongized they were suffering from depression -- but from those who already had been diagnosed. Many of the letter writers shared how they often felt stigmatized when they were diagnosed -- that other people merely thought depression was "in their head" and they should "snap out of it."

I do believe that our societal views of depression have changed a bit. As more people have sought help and been successfully treated, we have all come to understand the disease and its effects a bit better. Still, as someone who had a close family member suffer from depression, I believe it's a disease that is still often misunderstood.

That's why it's so important that we recognize the signs of clinical depression. Whether we may be suffering from it ourselves, or believe someone we work with has the illness, it's also critical to remember that it is a disease that can be treated with proper care.

If you suspect you are depressed, contact a health professional or Mental Health America for more information. If you believe a co-worker may be suffering from the disease, contact your human resources department or let a supervisor know there may be a problem.

Among the warning signs of clinical depression:
* Difficulty making decisions.
* Decreased productivity.
* Irritiability and hostility.
* Withdrawal from others, or conversely, extreme dependence on others.
* Feelings of hopelessness and depair.
* Slowness of speech, chronic fatigue.
* Slumping posture, flat or blank expression.
* Inability to concentrate, decline in dependability.
* Unusual increase in errors in the work product.
* Proneness to accidents.
* Tardiness, absenteeism.
* Lack of enthusiasm for work tasks.

Keep in mind that many employers have employee assistant programs or other health referrals available for employees. To be blunt about it, it is in everyone's best interest to get help for workers who may be clincially depressed.

Specifically, its' estimated that depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the U.S. economy, costing over $43.7 billion in absenteeism from work (over 200 million days lost from work each year), lost productivity and direct treatment costs. Depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if untreated.

Finally, remember that more than 80 percent of people with clinical depression can be successfully treated. You're not alone, and help is available if you need it.


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