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Helping Employees Understand Depression and Seek Help from the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Posted by Daniel Feerst on

Training and educating employees about mental health may still seem like an activity that has nothing to do with the average employer's primary business purpose. Many managers and leadership staff still vehemently reject the idea that a company should wander into addressing this and other areas of employee wellness. But they adopt this attitude at their own peril.

At a television manufacturing facility, would a furnace with a leaking gas line, or a truck with worn out brake pads on

Understanding and Treating Depression PowerPoint, Training, DVD, Video

property risking a catastrophe be any of the employer's business if the mission of the organization is primarily selling televisions? Of course it is their business. But why?

The furnace and the truck are resources possessed by the organization, and maintaining them requires certain attention being given to problems they might experience to lessen the likelihood of larger more costly problems arising. To ignore these issues could affect productivity, safety, and risk to the organization's bottom line, or blow it up entirely.

Now let's see the same argument applied to workers and employees. They are resources, too. And keeping them "fined tuned" and helping them deal with the intra-psychic problems makes perfect sense if personal issues could affect the bottom line. Depression is such a problem.

Unlike a truck or a furnace, employees are an organization's most valuable resource. Few will argue that this isn't true. After 40  years, EAPs certainly have gotten this point across. This makes educating employees about personal problems, helping them self-diagnose, seek help, and benefit from life tips a relevant responsibility for the employer.

One common problem that affects employees is major depression, which is a brain disease, not an imaginary case of the blues that lingers. Depression is a common mental illness that affects nearly 10 percent of the people in the United States. It is a treatable, medical condition — not a personal weakness. Everybody at one point or another experiences sadness or the “blues” as a reaction to loss, grief, or an emotionally upsetting incident. Someone might say they are “depressed,” but major depression is a serious medical condition requiring professional diagnosis and treatment. Depression left untreated can lead to other health care and life problems, and if severe enough, even suicide. Oh yes, depression obviously can affect the bottom line.

So it is easy to see it makes to sense to educate about depression and help employees self-diagnose it or least get their curiosity so aroused that they seek a competent assessment.

Depression can be caused by one specific incident or a combination of factors. Grief over the loss of a loved one, a major life change, physical or emotional harm by another person, a physical injury, illness, or even side effects of medication could cause depression. Stress--ongoing workplace stress, particularly financial worry can trigger depression. A recent news article reported that 65% of Americans lose sleep over financial stress. Depression can also be caused by changes in the brain, and in many instances it is hereditary. Depression often runs in families, too. So educating employees with the intent of this information in the form of a flyer or handout finding its way home those who might be benefit from it is a smart move.

Symptoms of depression may include sadness, hopelessness, irritability, feelings of guilt, crying spells, sleep and eating  disturbances, a negative self-image, the inability to feel joy, changes in body weight, decrease in energy or sexual interest, headaches, and thoughts of suicide. Can any of these things affect the bottom line? Yes, several of them.

Depression may include other symptoms not listed here. EAP education should focus on helping employees not to blame themselves for symptoms of depression with whatever depression education and awareness program is used. This dysfunction only makes the problem grow worse. You must educate employees so you dispel myths about this disease. Many employees do not "buy" into the disease model of depression (or alcoholism for that matter) and some group discussion in your training is advised. We do address these myths in this PowerPoint presentation that you can see in full here. (Let me know if you have interest in it. It's editable so you can add your own expertise, and frankly you should. Otherwise the DVD, Video, and Web course are available, but if need I can edit those for you too or add your logo.)

Employees should be educated to understand that there are many myths about depression. These include the beliefs that depression is a sign of weakness and that you are hopeless, crazy, or should be able to “just snap out of it.” Even medical and clinical professionals experiencing depression are tempted to rely upon these myths in attempts to get themselves to "snap out of it." Be sure to give employees a take-away tip sheet on depression and its diagnosis or treatment.

It is also a myth that depression causes alcoholism or other drug addictions. Addictive diseases are primary illnesses, which means they are not secondary or caused by other medical conditions. It is possible to have both diagnoses at the same time. This is called a “dual-diagnosis.” However, depression isn't causative to alcoholism.

Depression may be treated with or without medication, with individual or group counseling, diet, exercise, or other types of interventions including alternative therapies. Employees should be encouraged to seek psychotherapy from a qualified professional who can provide psycho therapy services because research has shown medication and psychotherapy have about equal chances for managing depression and offering relief to the patient.

Regardless of the approach taken, it is important to have depression evaluated by a medical doctor, preferably a psychiatrist. Thoughts of suicide warrant the immediate need for medical help, of course and employees should get this message clearly.

This training program, "Understanding and Treating Depression" is designed to help employees understand depression, how treatable it actually is as a disease, and take initiative to seek help for themselves or someone they know.

In any handouts or tip sheet, be sure to point out that the EAP can screen for depression or refer to another resource that can provide a depression screening. The EAP can also help find medical help for further evaluation and treatment in accordance with the health insurance plan. If you do not have insurance, the EAP can help you locate other resources. Later, the EAP can provide follow-up and support.

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