How to spot depression

We all have mental health just as we have physical health, and sometimes our health can fluctuate. Long working hours, overwhelming workloads and problematic relationships with colleagues can all lead to insurmountable stress, which could initiate a serious mental health problem if left unaddressed.

Mental health problems at work is still often considered a 'taboo' subject, which is ludicrous considering how common mental health issues can be. Almost one in six employees will experience a mental health problem, including anxiety and depression at some point in their working lives.

Mental health problems in the workplace can not only be destructive for the depressed employee, but also for their colleagues and the business as a whole. Poor mental health in the workplace costs the UK economy an estimated £99 billion a year due to lost productivity and employee absenteeism.

Employee wellbeing is a key issue that many companies are striving to address. A happy workforce is a productive workforce, and employers who spot signs of depression early on could help their employee avert a potentially disabling condition and minimise productivity issues in the workplace.

So, as an employer, how can you spot the signs of depression in your workforce and how can you approach this difficult subject with your employees?

Loss of motivation and decreased productivity

Just like a physical condition, mental health problems can affect motivation and productivity at work. A depressed individual may have difficulty concentrating at work or motivating themselves to complete their tasks. You may have noticed that your employee struggles to start or finish tasks, or is taking a lot longer to produce their work. If your usually driven employee is suddenly showing less enthusiasm for their work, it could be that a mental health problem is playing a factor.

Withdrawal from colleagues

Withdrawing from friends or colleagues may be a sign that your employee is suffering with depression. Have they lost interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed? Are they isolating themselves and avoiding social events after work with colleagues? It's fine if your employee likes to keep themselves to themselves, but if this behaviour is not typical of them, there could be an underlying problem.

Changes in behaviour

A sudden change in an employee's behaviour may indicate that they are going through a tough time, perhaps a mental health issue is affecting their behaviour. Depression can cause changes in a person's social conduct and cause them to behave in a way that contradicts their usual character. Those usually passive in nature could become aggressive and outspoken, or a usually confident member of staff could become reserved and distant.


Absence is an obvious sign of a health problem, but it is rare for an employee to call in sick and mention a mental health problem as the reason for their absence. Depression can lead to regular short-term absences as the depressed individual struggles to cope with the stress of work and daily life.

Poor punctuality

Poor punctuality may a sign that your member of staff is struggling with depression. As a depressed person struggles to motivate themselves to focus on planning and carrying out daily tasks such as getting ready for work, you may have noticed your employee coming into work later or perhaps leaving the office earlier.

How can you approach the subject of mental health?

If you suspect an employee is suffering from depression, the best thing to do is take the lead and arrange a meeting as soon as possible to discuss the matter in private. Knowing how to best approach and talk to a team member who may be experiencing mental ill health may seem a little daunting, but a little bit of empathy can go a long way. Be supportive and encourage your employee to speak openly about their struggles without fear of reprisal. Of course, a team member may not want to talk about issues they are going through. You may find it best to try not rush them or pressure them to talk. Instead, reassure your employee that you are available at any time, to talk about anything, once they are ready.

Offering support

Once you have identified that your employee is suffering with a mental health problem, it's time to offer some support, but what should this support look like? First of all, you may find it useful to ask your employee if there are certain triggers in the workplace that exacerbate their depression and put together a plan to support them. This could include regular breaks, flexible working hours or employee counselling. Check in regularly with your employee and ask them how they are doing.

Standing by your employee when they are dealing with a mental health problem reflects your organisation's values and culture and may add real value to your business.