Workers may try to hide their depression

Don't avoid screening

Depression isn't typically the first complaint a worker presents to their occupational health professional. In fact, an employee is likely to conceal this from you.

"Many people with depression do not seek out treatment and hide their condition," says Douglas Nemecek, MD, senior medical director for CIGNA. "Reasons include the social stigma attached to the condition, fear and hopelessness that nothing can be done to help them, and even anxiety about possible discrimination at work."

To compound the problem, occupational health professionals who aren't trained properly might be uncomfortable with depression. Thus, they avoid asking questions about mental health.

"Many professionals avoid screening, as they do not know what to do if the screening demonstrates that a mental health problem is present," says Nemecek.

Some employers fear the impact of acknowledging depression or mental health issues in their workplace. Or they may avoid screening due to their own prejudice about mental health issues. "By not screening, they can portray the idea that depression and mental health issues do not impact their workforce," says Nemecek.

You need training

"Training is needed for all occupational health professionals to properly identify the signs of depression, and understand how to help workers overcome it," says Nemecek. "Screening should also conform to the company's risk management policy."

You can simply make workers aware that programs and services are available. "This is a vital component," says Nemecek. "Acknowledging stress in the workplace can contribute to depression is a good first step for any company."

To do this, offer depression screening at health fairs, place confidential self-rating sheets in the cafeteria, and screen workers either at on-site clinics or through a health risk assessment.

The next step is putting in place the right benefits and services that help minimize the impact of stress in the workplace. If employee assistance programs are offered, reassure employees about confidentiality. "The stigma and fear of being 'found out' that is attached to depression can be very difficult to overcome," says Nemecek.