Ways to Support an Employee With Mental Health Problems

As of 2013, 5.6% of full-time workers claimed that they were depressed. The number may not seem a lot, but that doesn’t mean that mental pain and suffering at work is to be taken lightly. In fact, workplaces are currently facing an increased mental health problem, owing to the pandemic and the anxiety it bred.

Mind Share Partners, a non-profit organization that aims to change the culture of workplace mental health, conducted a study of global employees at the end of March and in early April. They have found that the mental health of 42% of their respondents had declined since COVID-19 cases started to rise. Considering everything that has already happened between then and now, it is likely that the figure has risen.

Thankfully, there are managers and employers who made an effort to understand mental health. Some may opt to take an Adult MHFA course, which would help organizations create a more inspiring environment for their employees.

But since we’re anticipating a higher degree of mental health problems among employees during this period, what can managers and employers do to show their support?

What Causes Depression at Work?

Everybody gets stressed at work. There are days when we just feel blue, or when nothing seems to go right. As such, some mental health and human resource professionals blame work as the cause of depression. Others don’t agree and say that an individual has to be vulnerable to it, or that it has something to do with their personal struggles, not necessarily their work.

True enough, it’s not work that causes depression, according to the director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, Clare Miller. If an individual is predisposed to the condition, work can be good or harmful for them, but it can’t be the main cause of depression.

Still, mental health struggle at work is a serious problem. It impacts not just the affected employee, but their company as well. In a research made by Miller’s organization in 2013, depression was found to be the leading cause of reduced productivity in the U.S., incurring an annual loss of $44 billion.

Lake Forest-based psychologist Elizabeth R. Lombardo, PhD., MS., PT., attributes this problem to “learned helplessness”, which is the sense of losing one’s control over their job. Lombardo explains this as feeling powerless to influence or make a change in a situation.

The symptoms of depression due to learned helplessness include social withdrawal, passivity, reduced effectiveness at work, procrastination, low self-esteem, and the dwindled desire to make a difference.

If learned helplessness isn’t the issue, depression at work is possibly caused by having the wrong role, misalignment between the company and personal values, work-life imbalance, introvert/extrovert stress, or feeling trapped. Bullying, unreliable guidance, and unreasonable work demands are possible causes as well.

The Role of Managers in an Employee’s Well-being


A manager’s role stays the same even in times of uncertainty, and that is to support their team members, including their well-being. The first step to addressing their problems is to normalize mental health challenges. Break the stigma towards depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Managers should start conversations about mental health challenges, being honest about their own experiences. This creates an opening for employees who might be suffering from depression.

The work-from-home setup actually helped in normalizing daily life’s struggles, including mental health issues. It humanized many managers and employees, especially during situations where their kids or pets show up on the camera. Under normal circumstances, those “bloopers” will be regarded as unprofessional, but on the contrary, the pandemic has made them endearing and relatable instead. It showed managers and employees that they are all human beings with human problems.

Hence, when employees open up about their mental health to their managers, the latter must give them time for breaks. Better if they model healthy behaviours, such as showing that it’s okay to prioritize self-care. They must let their team know that even managers get burnt out too. And while they’re at it, managers should also check in on themselves, and tell their team that they, too, need a mental break from time to time.

Showing support isn’t done by simply saying that you understand mental health challenges. It should go beyond listening or giving advice. Managers should also do team check-ins, asking simple questions such as “How are you?”, or more specific ones that would encourage employees to voice out the types of support they need. But of course, managers should respect boundaries as well, and avoid questions that are too overbearing. The key is to allow employees to be in control, as that would make them feel safer and more comfortable.

Managing employees’ well-being isn’t easy, so managers and employers should remember that they are only supporting, not carrying their team’s mental burden. At the end of the day, you can only do so much, and it’s on the affected employee to seek help. And needless to say, managers and employers need to care for own their mental health too.

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