Executive Health: Beating the blues

If I told you one in six of your employees has either had or will suffer from depression, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But those are the facts. The Ministry of Health (MOH) estimates around one in six New Zealanders will experience serious depression at some time in their life.
What this means is that depression is highly likely to enter your own life in some way – in your home, in your extended family or close circle of friends, and almost certainly in your workplace.
Around the nation, there was collective dropping of jaws when All Black legend John Kirwan first revealed he had suffered from depression since he was young man. Despite his successes, even he wasn’t immune to complex and often misunderstood illness, one that can be hard to talk about for both the patient and those around them.
Depression is separate from our natural emotional reaction to sad or traumatic events, though these can be triggers for depressive episodes. Some known risk factors include life upheavals, unemployment, stress, long-term illness or serious injury, family history and certain medications. But sometimes no obvious risk factors are evident. This can potentially make it even more difficult for person to seek treatment – when they feel there’s no “reason” to be depressed. Depression, unfortunately, sometimes doesn’t need reason to take up residence.
Whatever the underlying cause, depression can be frightening experience. But the condition is not life sentence. With the right support and professional medical advice, it can be effectively managed and even overcome.

Workplace depression – being good supporter
Mental health remains highly personal issue. And in an economic downturn, employees may be unwilling to be seen as anything less than 100% productive.
Visibly encouraging good mental wellbeing in the workplace can let employees know they will be supported in seeking help. For many, taking the crucial first step of simply saying to their GP “I’ve been feeling down” can be the very hardest.
Offering an Employee Assistance Programme is one way to show your team that mental wellbeing is taken seriously by your organisation. This is an independent service that provides confidential and professional counselling services to help employees work through personal and work-related issues. Other ways to support good mental wellbeing within the workplace can include:
• Educating managers on the warning signs that someone in the workplace may be experiencing depression. Signs can include reduced productivity, poor work quality, missed deadlines, overly sensitive or emotional reactions, lethargy and withdrawal from colleagues.
• Addressing the causes of workplace stress. These can be identified in performance reviews and confidential workplace climate surveys.
• Initiating workplace health initiatives, such as sporting challenge. Little or no exercise, lack of sleep and poor diet are all lifestyle risk factors for depression.
• Offering seminars on how to recognise and support those with depression. It can also be very upsetting and stressful experience to watch loved one struggle with this illness.
For more information and advice, see www.depression.org.nz. This excellent MOH-run website offers easy to follow, practical steps for those who think they might have depression, and those looking to support them.
As JK says, little bit of understanding can make big difference. M

Peter Tynan is chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society.

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