Opinion: Judith Smith on how we can dispel the stigma of depression in Whitehall

The UK has the highest rate of depression-related sickness in Europe, according to a recent survey by the European Depression Alliance. And alarmingly, over a third of the 792 managers surveyed said they have no formal support in place to help them deal with depressed employees. We have a very long way to go before we can say we’re properly supporting employers and employees in recognising and managing depression in the workplace. And this is certainly true within the civil service.

By Civil Service World

01 Nov 2012

We in the Charity for Civil Servants [formerly the Civil Service Benevolent Fund] have hands-on experience of civil servants who find depression crippling and exhausting, but who try not to do anything to jeopardise their jobs. They believe there’s still great stigma around depression, and say their managers consider them weak, unreliable, and responsible for bringing the mood down in the office. When managers, lacking the right resources and training, say that someone “doesn’t look depressed”, people suffering from depression just don’t know what to do.

The good news is that there’s a wealth of guidance for employers on how to create mentally healthy workplaces, and some simple steps we can all take. Managers should be encouraged to create a climate of openness and actively promote wellbeing amongst staff, fostering self-awareness and the sharing of feelings with colleagues. Maintaining contact in a supportive but unintrusive way makes returning to work easier and reduces the risk of isolation. And by promoting employee assistance programmes early on rather than as a last resort, managers help tackle people’s reluctance to talk about their depression.

Auditing stress and wellbeing, then working with staff to find solutions to emerging issues, will improve working environments and management skills, and raise personal resilience. In the right environment, that 41 day average should decrease. Good managers will retain valuable employees; the less good ones will see skilled staff give up and jump ship.

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