How we support our colleagues with depression
It's only been in the last 12 months that I have admitted I suffer from depression. Facing this reality and dealing with it has not only improved my personal life, but I've also enjoyed more success in my business. I would like to see other businesses do the same.
Did you know depression affects a quarter of people in the UK every year, costing the economy as a whole £70bn? Despite this, businesses are often unprepared to deal with the problem, particularly SMEs. A comprehensive survey by The Shaw Trust (PDF) found that 72% of companies don't have a mental health policy, with small businesses half as likely as large organisations to have one.
Furthermore, the CIPD found in 2012 that less than half of employees felt comfortable talking to their employer about mental health, and only 25% said their employer actively encouraged openness about it. This could explain why multi-billion sums of money are lost.
Based on my personal experiences, I know there are ways to tackle the issue and increase the wellbeing of employees. We’ve implemented the following steps to encourage our employees to approach us with any mental health related issues they have:
Start the discussion: Employers need to show courage and start conversations about mental health, bringing the issue into the open and creating an accepting environment. Talking about my depression with my co-directors for the first time was daunting. However, they were brilliant, making that conversation a real turning point in my recovery.
Provide a support structure: This is vital for coping with mental health. Employers need to accept they have an important role to play in supporting staff. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it makes sound business sense.
Look out for the signs: Employers are in a position to help staff recognise potential problems. Mind's detailed guidelines (PDF) contain a wealth of practical tips including how to look out for mental illness among colleagues.
Take action: For me, when the black dog bites, I need to take time out without feeling like I'm letting people down. If I have the space to do this, I'll be out of action for only a day or two rather than a week or more, and I'll come back all the more motivated. Employees need to know that you will take real steps to help them manage their condition and stay in work, like giving them the time they need to recover.
Enjoy the shared success: When I tackled my mental health problem head-on, my life started to improve but crucially so did my performance at work. Suffering from depression does not make me a less effective person overall, and I feel a huge commitment to those people who have given me the understanding I need. If I show this same understanding towards my staff, they will feel accepted and won't want to work anywhere else.
There must be many more people who have suffered mental ill health as I have, and yet still work and succeed. I want to encourage business owners and employees to speak up and share their experiences, as the more of us there are having the conversation, the louder it will be.
Follow Charlie Mowat on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Charlie_Mowat
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