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Would you recognise depression in the workplace?

Rates of depression are on the increase worldwide and under the WH&S Act 2011 there is a requirement for employers to minimise the risk of psychological factors.
The interesting thing is that a person suffering from this insidious state may know personally what it feels like if it is severe, but, would those who are in the mild to medium category know what to look for, especially when many of the symptoms can be attributed to other causes. How does it manifest on the workplace?
A five-year study undertaken by the Australian Psychological Society 2011 – 2015 indicated that 87% of Australian workers were depressed. (This is a cumulative figure of: mild, medium and severe.) This ties in nicely with a US study in the Washington Post 2013 which indicated that only 13% of workers were fully engaged in their jobs. This group could be described as feeling positive and enthusiastic about going to work, who actually enjoy it, feeling that they are contributing and feel valued as an employee.
The WH & S Act of 2011 is at least a starting place to help employers disseminate information to employees about what mental health issues mean, the implication for business and personal health and so on, but there appears to be a lack of understanding of why mental health issues arise and why they are in the increase and what practical training can be implemented to help employees improve their mental health and wellbeing.
In the US the general strategy for dealing with mental health issues is as follows:
– Assessment – EAP
– Clinical diagnosis
– Slotting into the mental health stream and work with a psychologist or a psychiatrist
– Taking medication – generally anti-depressants
– Instigating a talking therapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and/ or both taking a drug + CBT approach)
– And, if all else fails then use ECT – (Electroconvulsive Therapy or other such violent approaches)
The quick route appears to involve taking a prescribed medication because at least this will increase the serotonin levels and increase other happy hormones, eventually. (Many of these drugs take weeks or months to take effect and, in the mean-time recipients can incur more drastic symptoms.)
This is a solution for dealing with the symptoms and may help severely depressed people cope in the short term. But it still only deals with the symptoms.
The question that needs to be asked is: where and why does depression (or other mental health diseases) arise? Why does it keep getting worse and is there another solution?
Before we move onto those questions let’s have a look at some of the symptoms that people may be experiencing.
According to DSM-5 you have to have had these symptoms for two weeks or more:
• Persistent sadness, anxious, or “empty” mood
• Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
• Irritability
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
• Decreased energy or fatigue
• Moving or talking more slowly
• Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
• Appetite and/or weight changes
• Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
• Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
You may not have all of these symptoms but as a general rule you would have had several of them and they would need to have been persistent.
When a person is trapped within the depression cycle this is what the behaviour patterns might look like to fellow workers:
• Withdrawal from team, isolates oneself
• Indifference
• Putting things off, missed deadlines, accidents
• Seems “scattered” or absentminded
• Procrastination, indecisiveness, slowed productivity
• Late to work, afternoon fatigue, accidents
• Unsure of abilities, lack of confidence
• Low motivation, detached
• Inappropriate reactions, strained relationships
• Change in appearance
When looking at the term” depression” or “anxiety” people often find it difficult to explain what these terms mean or how to define them adequately.
Depression defined
The word depression comes from the word depressed which means to press down. A depressed person keeps pressing down their emotions, emotional responses and their ability to express how they feel. This state is a “learned” coping strategy that has been adopted during their formative years and they found that this strategy worked for them during times of great stress.
The depressed person is constantly going over and over the past and their language will include sayings like this: ‘if only I had done, said, been more…’ whatever, then the result would have been different. So, they keep reliving the past but without the benefit of actually being able to release the underling emotion or express the underlying emotion attached to those specific issues. This constant pressing down or suppression or non-expression of how they are feeling leads to physiological changes in their DNA and the electrical signals and message that are transferred throughout their body/mind. Tis constant rehashing of things they “should have done/said/been” eventually leads to the person operating out of the negative side of their personality. This then becomes their permanent default way of responding to stress. Because they cannot change the past this leads to a sense of despair and loss of hope.
At the other extreme, when you look at anxiety, this means that someone who is in distress because they are very apprehensive. What this means is that the person is hyper-vigilant and they are constantly trying to control every aspect of their lives. The more they try to control, the more they see what needs to be controlled, so they are in an ever-increasing cycle of feeling out of control. Anxious people operate out of this type of language: ‘what if this happens or that happens.’ This constant hyper-vigilance leads to not only feeling out of control but also sends them into overwhelm most of the time.
The key to these two types of responses: depression and anxiety is that each response sets off the stress response mechanism and floods the body/mind with cortisol. This sends the brain into lock-down and the person becomes fuzzy, cannot concentrate or make sensible decisions. This can lead to memory loss and severe lack of concentration and creativity.
Also, from a physiological point of view these strategies have been used over many years, they cannot be sustained because the chemical damage to the body/mind depletes nerves, organs, the immune system and many other health issued will arise.
So, why do we have these two extremes and which are the basis of most so-called mental health issues?
As mentioned previously they are “learned” coping strategies and these people have copied this behaviour from their primary care-givers. These strategies enable the stressed person to survive their environment. When you keep repeating something over and over it become an in-grained habit. And, unfortunately, some people do such a good job of repeating these habits that they create diseases such as depression and anxiety, or more serious psychotic illnesses.
So, what can people do about depression and anxiety before they become long term mental health issues?
Sufferers need to have a good understanding that stress is the basis of these behaviours and that they also need to know that they have created these states themselves. If this is so, then they have the power to “unlearn” these behaviours.
This takes time. One useful way to start the mending process is to identify the stress triggers that et off these automatic behaviours and then to implement other more positive coping strategies.
Another practical solution is that if medication is needed, and it may well be needed in both mild and medium cases, that the person take these drugs for very short periods of time but at the same time take vital minerals and vitamins that may be needed because the body has been depleted and adrenal fatigue has set in. You will need to find a reputable holistic doctor who knows about these issues. I was fortunate enough to find a doctor who knew about theses issues and I was able to overcome my depression with this approach. Rather than fighting the diagnosis, accept it and that this combination could very well work for others as well.
Celine Healy, Stress Resolution Specialist. ( and ). Speaker, Author, Coach and Trainer, transforming stress and mental health issues into wellbeing, one step at-a-time. Celine’s latest book: Boost Success in All Areas of Your Life- How to build ultimate resilience and energy, is available at: https://localhost/celine/books/