How to Help a Co-Worker Struggling With Depression

by Jennifer Miller on December 6, 2011

in Human Resources, Workplace Issues

December marks the start of a busy holiday season for many people in the United States and no doubt you’ve seen an uptick of holiday festivities in your workplace. While it’s a myth that suicide rates increase in the month of December, there’s no still shortage of stress that comes along with the added activities the holidays bring. Excessive stress can lead to clinical depression. Mental health experts estimate that one in four women and one in ten men can expect to develop depression at some point in their lives. (Because these are self-reported figures, the numbers on men are low, due to the societal bias to “act like a man” and “tough it out”.)

Given these statistics, it’s likely that you may be working alongside someone struggling with some form of depression. Of course, this could be the case at any time during the year, but it may be even more prevalent now. There is a stigma to having a mental health issue, so people in the workplace do their best to hide it. If you’ve sensed one of your colleagues is depressed, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do. There is: the first task is to be informed. Here’s a quick rundown on a few mental health facts*.

What Does Depression in the Workplace Look Like?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, signs of depression at work might include:

  • Decreased Productivity
  • Morale problems
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Safety risks, accidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Frequent statements about being tired all the time
  • Complaints of unexplained aches and pains
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

How Can I Help?

First of all, realize that you are not a mental health professional. As such, it’s not your job to help diagnose or treat a colleague. What you can do is provide a caring ear.  If you hear something that concerns you, be ready to offer a recommendation that will point your colleague in the right direction. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, suggest that your colleague contact them.

In preparation for this blog post, I contacted a few of my colleagues who are HR practitioners. Here are a few other suggestions they provided:

  • If your friend has medical coverage, refer them to their doctor.
  • Places of worship have great resources for ad hoc counseling, and will provide referrals to low cost resources.
  • If you are affiliated with an educational institution, check to see if there is an on-campus counseling center.

What If I’m in Management?

If you are a supervisor, it’s important for you to connect with your Human Resources department to ensure that you are handling the situation with compassion and within company guidelines. According to Deirdre Honner, Associate Director of HR for a university, “If it is impacting job performance, these conversations are a must. HR people are ready to help supervisors address problems, concerns, and/or issues that arise.  We encourage people to come forward EARLY so we can help in ways that are needed.”

Where Can I Find More Information?





Even though you can’t erase a co-workers depression, you can make a difference. If you know what to look for and are prepared to offer resources, you’ll be ready if the time comes for that difficult, but potentially health-saving conversation.



*This information is intended to be informational in nature, not prescriptive. If you are suffering from depression or any other form of mental illness, please contact your doctor to receive the appropriate care.

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