It’s likely that you know somebody with depression. It’s also likely that you have no idea they have it. Depression is a shrouded, shunned subject, and yet, researchers approximate that 1 in 4 adults fall prey to a mental health issue at some point in their careers. Recently, the World Economic Forum forecasted the global economic impact of mental illness between 2011 and 2030 to stand at a whopping $16.3 trillion.

Projections like these have raised the stakes for employers globally, compelling them to reconsider their workplace policies and reevaluate their organizational support ecosystem. Yet, with most depression victims choosing to suffer in silence, it can be hard to identify how and to whom to extend support. If transcending the hierarchy to drive change seems like an enormous feat, here are some steps you can follow to make yours a more compassionate workplace.

Step 1. Acknowledge the Problem

Let’s face it. Mental illness is inherently tethered to dismissive treatment in the workplace. Below par performance reviews, skipped promotions and heavy stigma form a grey cloud over many affected individuals. Even worse, many organizations do not have adequate measures to benchmark and manage mental health. When research suggests that up to 70% of depression victims veil their symptoms at the workplace, much rides on perception.

Step 2. Make a Commitment to Change

By making simple changes, you can helm a positive change. Be part of global depression initiatives to learn best practices from some of the world’s most compassionate workplaces. Participate in mental health campaigns that propel you onward and upward. Secure a budget to conceptualize a program with mental health as the centerpiece. Not only will such measures make you a workplace of choice, but you will also see a real business upside. According to a 2015 report by U.S. News, Aetna witnessed 62 minutes of incremental productivity per employee after instituting a wellness program. The program was deemed a tremendous success with employees’ stress levels reducing by 28% and sleep levels improving by 20%.

Step 3. Decentralize Support

Make line managers take ownership of their team. This will bring about universal change in the organization and sensitize every employee through the organization. The value of decentralization is to create change makers at every level. For example, well-being programs and stress-down days can only be fruitful if a manager encourages his or her team to partake in them. By sending your team member home early only to have them work remotely to meet a timeline, you’re defeating the purpose of an organizational initiative. More than just programs, managers need to be trained on how to handle crisis, anxiety and mental illness in their team. An overarching training mechanism can help managers recognize problems and lend timely and relevant support. Instead of just asking “Is there something bothering you?”, steer your conversation towards saying “I see that something is bothering you. I need to know what it is so that I can give you the right support and help you through it”.

Step 4. Create a Culture of Equal Investment

It isn’t just a line manager’s job to reach out and recognize those affected by mental illness. Everybody is equally accountable not just as employees, but as kindred human beings. Depression may manifest as low energy levels, hopelessness or a constant daze. Anything out of the ordinary, maybe persistent and pronounced anxieties can be telling of depression. It’s important to note that victims of depression may only confide in close and trusted friends. They may suggest feelings of loneliness or isolation. In more severe cases, they may talk about a loss of spirit or a will to continue. In such cases, it is important to be proactive and delve into details. Ask often how the person is feeling and engage them in conversations on plans about the future.

Depression can be tragic, on both personal and professional fronts.  As colleagues and allies, it is time we gave depression its due. It is time we brought change to the workplace.

Founded in 2013, OurHealthMate (OHM) is a healthcare technology organization. Our award-winning services are rooted in a three-pronged service strategy: care planning, business intelligence, and quality execution, and our corporate portfolio extends to over 250,000 employees worldwide.

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