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Home Knowledge CenterDepression in the Workplace: How to Approach a Depressed Employee

Depression in the Workplace

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects the body, mood, and thoughts. It can impact the way one eats, sleeps, and functions. Depression is not the same as a passing blue mood. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, often involving medication and counseling, can help most people who suffer from depression. You may notice changes in an employee’s behavior, mood, or appearance.

What You Might See in the Workplace

  • Persistent sad and empty mood
  • Communicating a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, pessimism
  • Uncharacteristic drop in productivity or increase in absences
  • Signs of substance misuse
  • Fatigue; loss of interest in ordinary activities
  • Disturbances in eating patterns, which may result in noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Crying, anxiety, or panic attacks
  • Fallout from sleep problems, such as tardiness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, agitation, conflict, anger issues
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Persistent physical symptoms or pains that do not respond to treatment
  • Veiled or direct talk of suicide

Not all people with depression will show all symptoms or have them in the same degree. These concerns may also be indicators of issues other than depression. It’s not your job to make a diagnosis if you notice these signs. The goal is to help the person connect with an Employee Assistance program (EAP), if available through the employer, or with mental health support and services available to them.

How You Might Approach a Person Showing Signs of Depression

Be sensitive to the need for privacy. If you’re initiating the conversation, approach and talk in a private setting.

Start with a focus on performance issues you’ve noticed. “I’ve noticed that you are struggling to meet the weekly quota. That’s unusual for you. I am concerned about you. Can you tell me about what’s going on?” Don’t ask about personal problems or depression directly, but listen to their concerns and be alert for these issues.

Show compassion. Let the person know you care and that they are valued. Don’t give advice. Remember that you don’t have to “fix” them. Really listening can make a difference.

If your company provides an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), tell them about the EAP and give them the number and/or a brochure. If there is a significant impact in the workplace, consider a management consultation with the EAP to further discuss options for the employee.

If your company does not provide an EAP, you can recommend they contact their health care plan for a referral to a mental health professional or speak with their family doctor. Go to Cigna's Provider Directory for medical professionals near you.

For additional information you can also visit:

Mental Health First Aid

Suicide Prevention Lifeline


Workplace Wellness Sadness


Responding to Suicide Warning Signs Suicide Warning Signs: What Do I Say?

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