I Went Home Depressed
Originally published on July 2, 2017 and republished on December 5, 2018 by the Montrose Daily Press.
More than one time in my career, I have feigned illness and left work for the comforts of bed. It was true: I didn’t feel well. However, I wasn’t 100 percent truthful. I left work because I was suffering with depression, and it was in those moments that even the thought of putting one foot in front of the other to get out to my car was daunting.
I didn’t walk into my boss’ office and tell him or her I was depressed because, frankly, who does that? Further, without proper understanding of these types of issues, allowing an employee leave because of “depression” can seem a bit dramatic or unnecessary. We do not live in a time when most workplace culture recognizes mental illness as actual illness. And though it is getting better, we also do not live in a society where people are comfortable talking about it.
In my struggles with depression, I felt embarrassed. I feel ashamed there was something (depression) out of my control that was gripping my performance at work. I felt like admitting my struggle would show weakness or inability to be a strong member of the team.
I’m writing this because I know I am not alone in these feelings or experiences.
As employers, it is time to step up. Suicide rates are sky high. People are struggling all around us, and though you may think your employee’s personal life needs to stay that way, often times they is no way of preventing the collision of personal and professional worlds.
At the same time, we must be incredibly cautious in how we address these things. We must show compassion while also not violating the privacy of our team members. If you feel compelled, perhaps try these ideas first:
1. Set the tone by telling your staff mental health days qualify as sick days. Make it clear that they (your staff) merely need to call in sick and no further questions will be asked. Consider rewriting your policy as such.
2. If you do not offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), spend the money. Your staff is worth it. There is at least one fantastic local option for EAPs. Most EAPs are impersonal, 1-800 number experiences that may leave your staffer feeling worse and more frustrated than before. The local option offers personalized, preventative care and quality support.
3. Promote a work environment that encourages people to get up from their desks, get some fresh air, and communicate with one another. People thrive when they feel a sense of belonging and care. How do you promote this environment? By getting up from your desk, taking a walk, chatting with people, and stopping to smell the flowers along the way.
4. Create a safe place. If you or another leader feels compelled, consider sharing a personal experience such as the one I shared with you. Consider telling your team you’re sharing this because you want them to feel like your workplace is about people and family. This vulnerability will help your team feel more comfortable when and if they experience similar struggles.
5. Bring your compassion to work every day. People get divorced, lose loved ones, or experience other types of grief. The emotional timeline travels much beyond the typical three days of bereavement. It’s okay to ask someone how they’re doing, or if there’s anything you can do to make it easier on them. It’s okay to tell them not to worry about their job as they go through this time in their life. Support them and pay it forward.
I am not a mental health professional. However, I am a person who has struggled with crippling depression while trying to maintain my professionalism. I am a person who has struggled with the darkness closing in. And sometimes, when you feel completely in darkness and completely alone, all it takes is someone lighting a single match (in kindness) to help you find your way again.
Mental wellness is an important part of the overall wellness of a person. The overall wellness of a person directly impacts their ability to perform in the workplace and other aspects of their life. As an employer, mentor, leader or boss, your responsibility is not fixing the problem for your team member, but rather supporting them through their difficulty.
Chelsea Rosty is the director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at email@example.com.