Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

How to Identify and Approach Employees Who Are Depressed or Suicidal

Although newer research suggests that people are actually less depressed and less suicidal around the holidays, the World Health Organization reports that the number of people living around the world with depression increased 18.4% between 2005 and 2015, and that suicide was the second leading cause of death among those individuals aged 15 to 29  globally in 2015. And those numbers only seem to increase each year, especially inside the workplace.depressed
According to Mental Health America:

  • Left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) to the U.S. economy, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs.
  • Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, following only family crisis and stress.
  • Almost 15% of those suffering from severe depression will die by suicide.

What’s more, most employees aren’t even aware that they are depressed, are unsure of how to get the help they need, or don’t want to risk their confidentiality at work when seeking help. So, you’ll want to know more about exactly what you can do as an HR or L&D professional to help those employees who are depressed or even suicidal.

Know the Signs

Far too often when there is a suicide or tragedy, bystanders claim that they never saw it coming. And this is because they aren’t aware of the signs. Here are some tell-tale signs that an employee or group of employees might be depressed or even suicidal.

  • He or she has a lot of unfinished projects; especially when he or she is typically extremely reliable and motivated.
  • The employee exhibits increasing forgetfulness; he or she forgets to attend meetings, meet clients, send e-mails, submit routine deliverables, etc.
  • He or she starts making bigger errors or has more common occurrences of mistakes.
  • He or she has trouble concentrating and is often drifting off during meetings.
  • The employee has increasing levels of indecisiveness and can’t make decisions.
  • He or she grows more irritable about everyday relationships, stressors, or tasks.
  • He or she has a sincere loss of interest in work or socializing with colleagues and will often call off work or show up to work and remain completely disengaged.
  • He or she always seems tired or fatigued and lacking any energy.

Know How to Communicate Well and Empathetically

Whatever you do, when you notice that an employee is exhibiting signs of depression, be empathetic and listen.
First, share that you are concerned about him or her as a person. Then address certain work-related concerns brought on by the new and different behavior. But be sure to use observable and concrete examples of behavior so that it doesn’t seem as if you’re being subjective or as if you’re picking on him or her.
Then listen to see if there are problems at home, with substance abuse, etc. And then offer appropriate help, especially if you have resources available with one or more of your employee assistance programs (EAPs). He or she might need to see a licensed therapist, attend rehab, or something else. Or this employee might just need an extra day or week off to rest.
Overall, it’s important that you understand how to properly identify and approach depressed or suicidal employees so that you don’t make matters grimmer for them or for your entire organization.

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