In 2014, it was estimated that 15.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode over the past year, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. It’s natural for HR managers to begin to consider how mental health can impact an employee’s performance in the workplace, but they can be unsure of how to approach this sensitive subject with an employee who may be attempting to work through the condition.

With Disability Insurance Awareness Month upon us throughout May, consider reaching out to your clients and discussing how to proactively help employees with depression within their organizations. Although most employers are familiar with the more noticeable impacts of depression, which may include frequent leaves, a number of hidden impacts can still affect a workplace as a whole for weeks, months or even years, without becoming obvious. By understanding the following four signs, you can help your clients create a healthier and more productive work environment for all employees.

1) Procrastination and missed deadlines. One of the most misunderstood impacts of depression is how much a person’s day-to-day ability to plan, execute and complete tasks can be affected. Many people who struggle with depression know what they need to do to get moving again — it’s just difficult for them to do so. This can present itself in a client’s workplace in the form of projects that aren’t completed, or sometimes, not even started.

2) Difficulties with memory and learning. Many people with depression report feeling as though they’re unable to remember things they used to recall with no problem. Job tasks and routine processes can become a burden as an employee tries to do something that used to come easily to them. Frustrations can mount and further interfere with memory and learning.

3) Team morale. Another fact about depression that many may not understand is that not everyone with depression looks depressed. An employee may manage to put on a “game face” while at work, but could still experience the lagging productivity, reduced effort and lack of desire that depression often can bring. In some ways, this game face may make it more difficult for the employer to realize an employee is suffering. Rather than see someone who is clearly in need of help, an employer instead sees a worker who is not pulling his or her own weight. This can have a dramatic impact on the morale and productivity of others on this employee’s team.

4) Hypersensitivity and withdrawal. For some people with depression, just being in the workplace can hurt. Lights feel brighter, sounds feel louder; everything is overwhelming. A formerly sociable and outgoing employee might subtly begin to step back from workplace activities or even request a move to a more quiet location. These changes can come very slowly sometimes as the employee does what he or she feels is necessary to “survive” at work. Again, this can have a big impact on productivity and overall health of the office.

Of course, the presence of any of these signs does not immediately signal a depressed employee, and not all of a client’s employees who deal with depression ever do so in a way that affects them on the job. However, by helping your clients learn to notice and understand the hidden impacts of depression, and working with them to develop office policies that include support and early intervention for employees struggling with mental health conditions, your clients can have a very noticeable impact on the overall health and productivity of their workplaces.

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Jeff Guardalabene

Jeff Guardalabene

Guardalabene, PsyD, is senior behavioral health case manager at Standard Insurance Company.