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Emma Mamo


Head of Workplace Wellbeing

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HR guide to depression in the workplace


We have been working with mental health charity Mind on a series of articles exploring mental health in the workplace. Take a look at the full content series today to get insight and advice on how to improve mental wellbeing throughout your organisation.

We all have mental health just as we have physical health – it moves up and down along a spectrum from good to poor. Considering how much time we spend at work, it’s not surprising that our jobs can affect our wellbeing.

Mental health problems are very common, and are also on the rise, in no small part due to the economic downturn.

Right now, 1 in 6 workers is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress [Office of National Statistics (2001), Psychiatric morbidity among adults living in private households in Great Britain, The Stationery Office].

One of the most common mental health problems is depression, affecting one in ten people at any one time.

Forty-four percent of employers have seen an increase in reported mental health problems in the last 12 months [Absence Management annual survey report 2012, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, in partnership with Simplyhealth (October 2012)].

Nearly one quarter of respondents to a recent Mind survey said that in their current role, job insecurity was either very or quite stressful [Populus poll for Mind of 2,060 adults in England and Wales in employment – polled between 6 and 10 March 2013].

Given this significant and increasing prevalence, every organisation in Britain – no matter how small or large – will be affected by mental health problems, so it’s something employers can’t afford to ignore.

One of the most common mental health problems is depression, affecting one in ten people at any one time.

What is depression and what causes it?

Depression describes a range of symptoms from a period of low spirits that makes coping with normal tasks harder, to life-threatening thoughts and behaviours that can make it impossible to function.

Someone experiencing depression may find it difficult to be motivated to complete tasks – including seemingly simple things like getting to work on time.

They may be irritable, easily frustrated or find it difficult to make decisions.

Someone experiencing depression may find it difficult to be motivated to complete tasks

Depression often means someone is less likely to want to discuss their thoughts, feelings or behaviour, which can lead others to misinterpret common symptoms as laziness or unprofessionalism.

The causes of depression vary, but possible factors include life events, physical conditions, medication, stress and lack of sleep.

Pressures in the workplace – for example fear of redundancy, long hours, dealing with difficult people or situations, or unreasonable targets – can both cause and worsen depression.

Although employees may not want to discuss these problems, it is important to consider how they can be addressed to assist the person’s recovery as people who have experienced a mental health problem can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace.


Interested in mental health? Here are some useful articles:


What are mentally-healthy workplaces?

Employers need to be proactive in managing the mental health of all their staff, whether they are experiencing a problem or not. Smart employers know that organisations are only as strong as their people and that the experiences, wellbeing and motivation of each worker are fundamental to how the organisation performs as a whole.

By positively managing and supporting employees’ mental wellbeing, employers can ensure that staff perform to their potential – allowing the business to achieve peak performance.

Studies show that organisations with higher levels of employee engagement benefit from better productivity, profitability and stronger staff commitment.

In the public sector, this brings better outcomes and better quality customer service [Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement [PDF, 972KB], David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (July 2009)] .

Mind’s ‘Taking Care of Business’ campaign helps people understand and start talking about mental wellbeing in the workplace. Mind is working closely with employers to give them the tools and confidence to support employees’ mental health. Our three-pronged approach enables employers to effectively manage and support workplace mental wellbeing by:

  1. promoting wellbeing for all staff
  2. tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems
  3. supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems

How HR can help

HR has a vital role to play in supporting an employee with a mental health problem – whether they are in work, off work or returning to work.

Creating an open dialogue leads to a system of support and understanding between employers and employees.

Generally a common-sense approach based on open communication and good people-management is all that is required. The rules of thumb are:

  • Encourage people to talk – create an open environment where people feel able to have a dialogue about their wellbeing, and even disclose a diagnosed mental health problem should they wish. Remember everyone’s experience of mental health problems is different. Focus on the person, not the problem and ask open questions about their triggers for distress and what support they need.
  • Avoid making assumptions – don’t try to guess what symptoms an employee might have and how these might affect their ability to do their job – many people are able to manage their condition and perform their role to a high standard.
  • Respect confidentiality – remember mental health information is highly confidential and sensitive. Don’t pass on information unnecessarily – not least because this breach of trust could negatively impact an individual’s mental health.
  • Respond flexibly – because mental health problems affect everyone in different ways and at different times in their lives, adapt your support to suit the individual. Developing a personalised action plan can help.

Action plans

Working together, the employee and line manager can produce an action plan to help manage their mental wellbeing at work. This involves exploring what workplace triggers may contribute to their mental health problem and developing tailored support to offset this.

The plan should cover:

  • the impact of the individual’s mental health problem on performance
  • workplace triggers and early warning signs
  • steps for both line manager and employee to take

Workplace adjustments

If someone is experiencing a mental health problem such as depression they may need the employer to make adjustments. Often this is about changes to attitude and culture rather than a costly intervention. Typical adjustments include:

  • Flexible hours or change to start/finish time
  • Change of workspace
  • Return-to-work policies such as a phased return
  • Changes to role which can be temporary or permanent
  • Changes to break times perhaps splitting the lunch hour into three 20 minute blocks
  • Increased support from managers to help prioritise and manage workload
  • Provision of quiet rooms to take some time out if needed

Return-to-work plan

If someone is off work due to a mental health problem, it’s important to maintain regular communication about how they are and how they can come back. A return-to-work plan allows you to explore any adjustments to their role or support measures that you could put in place. Discussing these in advance also provides reassurance to the employee that their contribution is valued and that their needs will be met on their return.

10 Responses

  1. A few years ago, I had some
    A few years ago, I had some problems with my family. And sure it had an impact on my work… But happy to say we have amazing staff psychologist Anna. She helped me a lot with my problems, and I am so glad to call her a friend. But sure I need to find some symptoms before it on the internet on websites like Quit Smoking Community, Wikipedia, etc. Don`t hesitate to ask for help!

  2. Mental health is becoming a
    Mental health is becoming a major global concern. Mild Cognitive Impairment which leads to Dementia remains undetected; people suffering from depression, anxiety that leads to suicide is increasing each year. We would love to help and provide a better access to brain health globally. Cognifyx Built a comprehensive, science based digital brain health ecosystem with a Vision to enable the global population to have healthier brains, leading to healthier lives. I will be more than happy to tell you more about us. Please feel free to reach me at [email protected]

  3. Your article is quite
    Your article is quite comfortable to read! Mental health is very important in work place as well as physical health! But if this occurs to any employee, employers are most likely to avoid their problems and keep on pressuring them without admitting the employees’ problem. Eventually the smart Employers are hard to find in today’s corporate world! One recent study shows that 1 out of 5 CEOs are psychopaths ( ). What you can do is just ignore the pressure and do your own job!

  4. Great Article,We have just
    Great Article,we have also just published our own blog out on the same subject matter. Snip-it below, and titled:
    How many of your employees are harbouring a secret Anxiety or Phobia.

    From an unusual fear of crowded locations or open areas to a chronic fear of spiders or social situations,public speaking,meeting, many of us have phobias above-common fears which reason in undue anxiety and can even bog a person down in the manner they behave or lead their lives. When national figures indicate that some 70% of us will suffer and emotional illness at some point in our life, Illness such as Anxiety, Stress, Panic disorders and fear or phobia, do you know how many of your employees may be suffering right at this moment.

    Many of these illnesses can cause the sufferer to develop as an exaggerated and unrealistic feel of risk about a state of affairs or object, people tend to organise their lifestyles around keeping off that issue that’s causing them anxiety, as well as restricting their day-to-day existence and develop avoidance techniques in the hope of keeping the secret away form family, friends and work colleagues. Many sufferers use avoidance techniques in the hope that the issue will go away in the same way it just seemed to appear.This is not the case and rarely happens, in fact it will just progressively worsen and worsen until the sufferer will ether need to have long term sickness to deal with high anxiety issues or a break down, or maybe leave that employment and make big life changes, so that they can carry on avoidance of the facing the issues that need to be dealt with.

    The staff member how happens to always go sick when required to attend meetings, or do a client visit.A staff member that can never be found when doing a task at heights, this list could go on and on. All having an impact not only on their life but also the business. After all a staff member who is currently suffering a fear of crowded spaces or public speaking is not going to perform that well and get the best out of meetings or conferences.

    If avoidance of the item, activity or situation triggers a phobia or anxiety that does interfere with rational and regular lifestyles, or prevents them from doing things you should or would normally do it is time to seek help.

    By way of using clinical hypnotherapy, a therapist will evaluate the extent of the phobia and then using a number of techniques to work with the subconscious mind is capable of quickly and effectively releasing a client of a phobia.

    For more information on how we can relieve you of your phobia, Call us on 01784 392449 or contact us via the form below.

  5. Mental health at work

    @DonR, thanks for your comment. I work with Emma at Mind on the Taking Care of Business campaign.

    We agree that a supportive mental health practitioner or GP can be a real help. Professionals can and do play a key role – for example by giving good advice on the impact of a person’s condition and what support measures might be helpful.

    However, we also know this is not always what happens in practice. Some GPs and mental health professionals are better than others and most are not occupational health experts. The role of GPs in the Fit note system is key. The fit note was introduced to replace the old sick note in April 2010. GPs issue fit notes to individuals to provide evidence of the advice the doctor has given about the individual’s fitness for work.

    However, Mind remains concerned about a GP’s ability to adequately assess and understand the context of a person’s job and work environment in relation to mental health without having appropriate training and expertise. We also know there are sometimes disagreements between employers, GPs and the individual about when the person is fit to return to work and the feasibility of putting support measures in place.

    For these reasons, and because of the confidentiality issues that you mention, we’re cautious about highlighting the role of GPs as a key solution. Also, our campaign is focused on behaviour change among employers first and foremost because this is where we feel the greatest impact can be made in terms of creating more mentally healthy workplaces.

    1. Interesting Point Natm. I
      Interesting Point Natm. I wonder how many HR managers on here would be able to detect or know the number of employees in their organisation who may be at this time secretly suffering an emotional or mental illness. be able to spot some of the tell tale signs…The Manager who always has something better to do,than attend that meeting, may be he is suffering panic-disorders, claustrophobia or social anxiety. The maintenance technician who always has to go to the toilet when a task of may be having to work in an enclosed space or at height,they understand the avoidance techniques people suffering mental or emotional illness put in to try and hide the condition they are suffering from.
      Would be interesting to see their feedback.

  6. Mental Health at Work

    Great article, MIND do such good work in this area. To add to all the information in the article it is also useful to consider how you can help to avoid depression building up in the workplace – as it can often seem catching (explanation too long for here but let me know if you want to know more).

    One thing you can do is to train your managers to look for the early signs of depression and other mental health issues – there are simple and effective ways managers can intervene without becoming counsellors. Also some companies run trainings in emotional resilience as part of their core training schedule. These short courses can really help employees understand their own signals for stress and depression and how to manage them and to manage their emotions well.

    [email protected]

  7. Mental health at work

    In my experience in Industrial Relations work in New Zealand Emma, I have found that where possible the assistance of the person’s mental health practitioner or  GP can be of enormous assistance.  Of course matters of confidentiality have to be addressed, but where it is obvious everyone is trying to help, oftentimes the health people are keen to be of assistance, and can be so without divulging certain information about their patients. 

    There is no mention of this additional resource in your article, and wonder if there is a reason………….and if so, how can that be addressed?

    Cheers.  DonR.

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Emma Mamo

Head of Workplace Wellbeing

Read more from Emma Mamo

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