When I ask people in my workplace seminars and workshops to raise their hands if they know someone close to them (at work or home) who struggles with depression or an anxiety disorder, between 70 – 90% of the audience raises their hands. I’ve run these workshops hundreds of times in Australia and around the world – and the answer is always the same. This shows that most employees are directly in contact with someone struggling with stress disorders and depression.
The cost of this stress and depression in the workplace is enormous, with Medibank Private estimating that it accounts for 34% of lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism. We can readily see absenteeism because people are away from work. Presenteeism is when people are physically at work but not fully productive – the lights are on but no one is at home. It might surprise you to know that presenteeism is estimated to be between 3 to 6 times the cost of absenteeism.
In my third book BACK FROM THE BRINK, I asked over 4000 people who live with depression and bipolar disorder what helped them most in their recovery.
I gave people over 60 options that included lifestyle strategies, psychological treatments, and medications. I wasn’t looking for one magic answer, but I was seeking themes that we could all follow that would make a difference.
From this feedback I developed an approach I called 5 Ways to Help a Stressed Workmate. We can all play an incredibly important role in helping those who may be struggling.
We can be the rainbow in someone’s storm.
I know that there will also be people reading this who are struggling themselves – you can also act on these suggestions. I have emails and letters from hundreds of people saying that these 5 steps made a big difference to their recovery.
You’ll notice that the 5 steps form the acronym I CARE to help make it easy to remember.
I’m passionate about advocating this approach because I know from first-hand experience and from speaking to hundreds of others, that full recovery is probable if you follow these suggestions.
My challenge to you is not only to remember these 5 steps but to also act on them to help someone in your life.
1.I is for IDENTIFY
As highlighted previously, there is still tremendous stigma in the workplace and it is unlikely that those who are struggling will admit it.
So what do we look for?
We looked for people acting differently. They may be quieter than normal, moodier than normal, suddenly arriving unkempt to work, or they may be slower with completing their work. They may also be isolating and avoiding people. Suddenly they are not attending Friday night drinks.
Of course we all have bad days but if people start demonstrating this atypical behavior for 3 days in a row we should act.
Other people vulnerable to anxiety or depression could be those going through tough times like divorce or separation, death of a parent, or a sick child.
So once we identify who is vulnerable what do we do to help?
So what did you think was most important?
Compassion and emotional support was judged the most important by far.
2. C is for COMPASSION
Compassion and emotional support gives stressed workmates the reassurance that people care, there is no need to suffer in silence, and things can be done to make life a little easier for him or her.
Emotional support can come from friends and loved ones, support groups, medical professionals, and work colleagues. Employees say that when a supervisor or someone at work cares about them as a person, it is the best predictor of recovery and return to productivity.
So how do we do this?
We start by asking them R U OK? and there is a 4 step process for doing this
- Break the ice – Ask R U OK?
- Listen without judgment
- Encourage action
The most common recommended action is to encourage them to see a mental health savvy GP – which leads us to step 3.
3. A is for ACCESS EXPERTS
The most important expert you can find is a mental health savvy GP. A mental health savvy GP will have the skills to assist and also to determine if the person may need a good psychologist or psychiatrist
Depression and anxiety disorders are estimated to be the root cause for 26% of GP visits and yet when a medical student spends 6 years to become a GP – universities spend less than 1% of lecture time on these conditions
So how can you help them find a good GP?
Suggest your employer puts together a mental health savvy GP panel to refer employees to. You could source this by asking employees on YAMMER or other internal social media networks or ask your EAP provider for recommendations
Suggest they ask friends or family if they have any recommendations
On the beyondblue website you can input their postcode and find GP’s and psychologists who have special interest in mental health.
So how does your team mate sense they have found a good GP after the first visit? I suggest they ask themselves:
Did the GP care about me as a person?
Did I feel they understood me and the symptoms I am experiencing?
Did they outline a plan I have confidence in?
Helping them find expert help is essential. What’s next?
4. R is for REVITALIZING WORK
Earlier in my career I worked for 15 years in recruitment and career planning so I knew intuitively that work was important to recovery – and also to our wellbeing.
Working as a volunteer for volunteering NSW was essential to my own recovery from debilitating depression.
Even with this background, I was still astonished to learn how important fulfilling work was to recovery.
It rated number 6 out of 60 options. To put this into context, the first medication was rated number 23 out of 60. Research shows that if a man is away from work for 6 months, it is the equivalent health risk of smoking 10 PACKETS of cigarettes per day. So encourage them to stay at work if at all possible, even if this means cutting back on their work load or working part time
Also, keep them connected and interacting with your team where possible.
Which brings us to our final step?
5. E is for EXERCISE
Both moderate exercise – equivalent to a 30 minute brisk walk 6 days per week – and vigorous exercise – 30 minutes jog 4 days per week – were both in the top 10 strategies out of 60.
Mayo Clinic research also shows that a 30 minute brisk walk improves your mood for 2, 4, 6 and up to 12 hours later.
The problem is that when people are feeling depressed, they often don’t feel like exercising.
I’ve found the following hints really assist to get people moving
- Find something that you like that is easy to do like walking, cycling, swimming or dancing
- Start small – if they haven’t been doing any exercise suggest they walk for 10 minutes each day for the first week and increase by 10% each week
- Establish rituals that make it easier to start exercise like setting out your clothes before you go to bed so that you can put them on immediately they wake up and leave straight away
- You could also offer to go for a walk with them at lunchtime.
So let’s now review the 5 Ways to Help a Stressed workmate.
The I CARE approach:
- Access experts
- Revitalizing work
If you would like a copy of the 5 Ways to Help a Stressed Employee poster to help remind you of this please email email@example.com.
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