The 2009 Recession: Work-related depression

More companies are expected to retrench employees in the year ahead. In these tough times, work-related depression is likely to be a growing problem at the workplace. If you're already feeling the recession blues, read on to find out how you can identify and tackle work-related depression.

By Denise Chew

Depression is a common illness. Statistics show that one in five women and one in ten men will suffer from it at some point in their lives. In the workplace, approximately three in ten employees will have mental health problems, of which depression is one of the most common...

This has great impact on worker productivity and ultimately the company’s bottom line. In the US, depression has become one of the country’s most costly illnesses. Left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the US economy.

Recognising the symptoms

If you have not suffered from depression yourself, or do not know anyone who has, it can be difficult to appreciate what it is like. Most people have felt sad or miserable as a result of a personal loss or distressing event. That feeling will eventually pass with time. If it drags on, gets worse and starts to dominate someone’s daily life, the person is likely to be suffering from depression. This is an unhappiness that will come “out of the blue” for no apparent reason and should be treated as a medical illness.

Work-related depression

For most, work is a significant and meaningful part of life. On average, 25% of our adult working life is spent working. It is not uncommon to get out of bed on a Monday morning and groan at the thought of going into work for another long week. Work-related depression is not just Monday morning blues however. It can seriously affect someone’s ability to work effectively and may be so bad that he will have to stop working completely for a time.

Someone suffering from work-related depression can start to behave out of character.

Causes of work-related depression

Work-related depression may arise from:
• Excessive working hours
• Poor physical conditions, for example, cramped offices, noisy factories, hot and stuffy environment
• Type of work, for example, repetitive work which does not fully utilise an employee’s potential
• Uncertainty about performance
• Job instability and organisational changes
• Frustration if workers have no say in the way their work is organised, or if decisions are imposed from above without any discussion
• “Difficult” bosses who bully and criticise

Work-related depression may also be a result of being laid off and subsequently not being able to find another job. Long-term unemployment will often bring about a feeling of being useless and unmarketable which can spiral downwards into depression.

What can be done?

Everyone has a personal responsibility to look after their own well-being. Maintaining a balance between work, play and family is a key factor. Regular activities outside work will help you meet new people, take your mind away from work worries and remind you that there is more to life than just the office. If you feel that you are stuck in a rut, a change in your daily routine or a change in attitude can start the positive energy flowing again.

Exercise regularly as physical activity reduces stress and gives the brain a much needed break. Continue to learn and grow at work while maintaining a healthy balance of recreational activities. Do not remain stagnant. Look for courses or opportunities to develop new skills and keep raising the bar for yourself. Think positively and reflect on what you have achieved versus worrying about future work. Avoid unhelpful avenues of stress relief like increased alcohol or caffeine intake or smoking.

Get external help
Talking about your feelings is often helpful in itself. It can give a fresh perspective and provides you with the comforting knowledge that you are not alone in your worries. Many people with mild depression feel better once they have discussed their problems with someone. This could be confiding in trusted friends or relatives, calling telephone hotlines, group therapy or professional counselling. Anyone concerned that they need help should also consult their GP for advice. If there is a diagnosis for depression, a course of anti-depressants may be prescribed.

Management responsibility
An unproductive workforce is not in the management’s best interests. Work-related depression incurs a heavy toll in financial cost and human suffering. The United Kingdom National Health Service states that work-related stress is a symptom of an organisational problem, not an individual weakness.

The key steps that should be taken are:
• Recognise the problem
• Develop organisational awareness of what the symptoms are
• Put in programs to handle work-related depression

Many employees are afraid of admitting that they may be depressed due to the stigma of being labelled “crazy”. They worry about how they will be perceived by their colleagues and fear that their job security may also be affected. Companies have to handle cases of work-related depression with sensitivity. Everyone in the organisation should be made aware of the importance of recognising and helping colleagues who may be suffering from depression. The underlying concept being that positive action will result in benefits not just to the individuals but to the company as a whole.

The way in which a company is organised and operates can have an effect on the mental well-being of its workforce. This includes the physical environment, job responsibilities as well as how people are selected, trained and supervised. Monitoring employee job satisfaction, their happiness with management and where the company is headed is also very important.

Stress management courses can be conducted and employees educated on the various avenues for getting external help.

If staff have to be made redundant, help them with the traumatic transition by providing counselling services and highlighting resources they can utilise to re-train and find alternative employment.

In conclusion, work is a double-edged sword. While it can provide us with structure, purpose, satisfaction, self-esteem and spending power, the workplace can also be a setting of stress and worry. As employees and employers, we need to manage our work and the environment we work in to bring about positive benefits to all.

Get Help, You Don’t Have to be Depressed

If you are suffering from depression, you don’t have to be alone. You can get help and support.

Please contact one of the organisations below.

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)

24-hour hotline providing emotional support to anyone who is depressed or may have suicidal feelings. If you are feeling afraid, confused, anxious, discouraged or sad and you need someone to talk to, call the hotline 1800-221-4444.

Face-to-Face Sessions - For those who prefer to meet up to talk about their problems, please call the hotline 1800-221-4444 for appointment first. Face-to-face sessions are from 8.30 am to 7 pm only.

Singapore Association for Mental Health
Helpline service 1800-283-7019 - operates during office hours, from 9 am to 1 pm, 2 pm - 6 pm on weekdays only. It serves to provide immediate assistance to callers who seek advice for their personal issues or a listening ear for comfort and displacement.

Face-to-face counselling is also available.

Institute of Mental Health Clinic
Tel: 6389-2200 Clinic hours: Monday to Thursday - 8 am to 5.30 pm Friday - 8 am to 5 pm

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