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By Citizen Reporter


Depression in the workplace

Classified a mood disorder, people mostly associate depression with sadness, loss of pleasure in daily activities, social isolation and feelings of worthlessness.

Yet, aside from affecting how a person feels and behaves, depression also influences thinking.

New South African research involving over 1 000 employed/previously employed workers or managers in the country now proves depression is not just a bad mood. Although respondents showed a poor awareness of cognitive symptoms, 74% of them reported experiencing one or more of the following the last time they were depressed: trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, indecisiveness. According to nearly half of the participants with depression, the cognitive symptom that

most affected their ability to perform work tasks as they normally would was difficulty concentrating.

“Depression affects cognitive functioning – such as decision making, concentration, memory and problem solving abilities. Depression negatively impacts productivity. If an employee has depression but is at work, they are five times less productive than an employee who was absent due to depression,” says psychiatrist and clinical psychologist, Dr Frans Korb.

Less than 20% of the employees taking part in the 2014 study associated forgetfulness and indecisiveness with depression, in contrast to sadness/low mood, which the majority identified as a symptom of depression. When it comes to recognising depression in the workplace, it seems South African workers would mostly look for withdrawal from colleagues, crying and extended sick leave as signs of its presence.

Picture: Thinkstock

Picture: Thinkstock

Despite rarely being a topic of discussion, the cognitive symptoms of depression tend to be quite debilitating and can affect all domains of a person’s life.

Diagnosed with depression, Greg* had this to say about his experience: “Trying to handle all my work responsibilities is very challenging for me, and it takes me a lot longer to get things done.

“It’s like you can’t see the small steps, and you don’t have the energy to take big steps, so you feel stuck … trapped. At the end of the day, very little gets done. This kind of thinking makes it difficult to do any normal daily tasks, not just those related to work.”

Employees who experienced cognitive symptoms rated their work performance with depression as worse than those with depression who did not experience cognitive symptoms. This suggests people who find their thinking more affected by the condition feel more incompetent at work than those who struggle more with a low mood or feelings of helplessness. Workers with cognitive symptoms were also more likely to have taken time off for their depression.

These findings highlight the issues of absenteeism in the workplace while ill, as well as continuing to work while ill, which then impacts severely on productivity.

During their last depressive episode, South African employees took an average of 18 days off work due to the condition. However, the recent study also showed only half of those diagnosed with depression have taken time off work because of it. What could this say about the level of performance achieved by the other half who continued working, especially when considering the commonly experienced cognitive symptoms of poor concentration, forgetfulness and indecisiveness?

Operations director of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), Cassey Chambers, says: “This is one of the reasons why it’s vital to examine how depression is managed in the workplace and what procedures are in place to ensure that affected employees are encouraged to and supported in seeking treatment.”

With the help of Lundbeck SA, Sadag conducted the new research to gain a better understanding of how many South

Africans making up the country’s workforce experience depression, how much awareness exists in the working world about the condition, and how the illness is managed in the workplace.

*Name has been changed.


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