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What to Say to a Depressed Co-Worker at the Office

You notice someone isn't themselves lately. You want to reach out to help, but you're not sure what to say to someone who might be suffering from depression.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Work can be stressful when there is a lot of pressure to get tasks done, retain clients, and grow the company. People can feel nervousness, fear, and anxiety about an upcoming project, tight deadlines, trying to land a high-paying contract or even the daily grind of doing repetitive tasks.

There can be a million reasons for stress at work, and everyone handles it differently. For some workers, unfortunately, stress at the office may exacerbate an already delicate emotional situation that turns from stress and fear to anxiety and even depression.

As a manager, company leader, executive, or business owner, your employees' emotional and mental health is vital to their success and the company's success as a whole. When you notice someone who hasn't been themselves lately, how do you approach them? How do you know what to say to someone who is depressed?

Read on to learn more.

Why Depression Awareness Matters at the Workplace

A 2022 report from Corporate Wellness Magazine states one-third of workers surveyed in 2021 said their mental health had declined over the past year, up from 20 percent in 2020. A whopping 84 percent of workers surveyed said they grappled with at least one mental health issue in 2021, such as PTSD, burnout, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Leaders in the workplace must take note of these for one essential reason: Nearly two-thirds, or 59 percent of those surveyed in 2021, said their mental health was affecting their work. That number jumped from 48 percent in 2020.

Anxiety was noted as the biggest jump among workers, up 14 percent from 2020 to 2021.

Here's why the anxiety numbers are essential.

Anxiety can be a precursor to depression. Sally R. Connolly, LCSW, told Hartgrove Hospital that anxious people have a steady, regular fear of some worry or a problem. Then people begin to feel bad about their worries.

Depression can set in after that. In fact, anxiety is often a trigger for depression, which is why you could come up with what to say to someone who is depressed.

Signs of Depression at Work

Cigna points out a few signs of depression at work for managers, supervisors, and executives to watch out for.

Trouble focusing on tasks. Is someone not as productive as they usually are? Do you notice someone unable to focus regularly? It could be they just had a long night without much sleep. If the pattern continues, there could be something more serious going on.

Missing deadlines. Making deadlines is a team and individual effort. Is there someone constantly missing deadlines whereas they didn't before?

Fatigue. Fatigue is hard to spot. However, someone could be lethargic or apathetic at work. Perhaps they aren't participating in meetings as much as they used to, yawn a lot, or don't seem as energetic as they normally had been in the past.

Missing work. People who constantly call in and miss work might need some personal days.

It's important to note that just because someone exhibits signs and symptoms of depression at work doesn't mean they have depression. That is for a licensed counselor or psychiatrist to determine. However, knowing what to say to someone who is depressed can help alleviate someone's emotional burden.

What to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

Dealing with depression at work is a delicate task. What someone thinks and feels isn't really someone's business at work. However, when their productivity begins to wane, and there are difficulties with deadlines, it may be time to have a conversation and know what to say to someone who is depressed.

The best thing you can do is show someone who you think is struggling with anxiety or depression that you care about their well-being, according to VeryWellMind.

Sometimes, a co-worker just needs to know that another person is there for them. You may not know what's going on inside your colleague's head. You may not know the root cause of what they're feeling. But hearing someone say they care might be a tipping point for someone to take action because they are shown compassion and acceptance by another person.

Depression can bring out feelings of loneliness and helplessness. Even if you're not close friends with a colleague, just gently remind that person you're there for them if they need something. Everyone at work wants everyone to succeed, and lending a caring and helping hand could lead to a better workplace environment for someone going through depression.

Ask how to help. Perhaps you can help by lifting a psychological burden from your co-worker. It all starts with a conversation. Maybe all they need is just an impartial friend to talk to who won't judge them or look at their situation with a skewed perspective.

One final thing for what to say to someone who is depressed at work: Talk about seeking professional help. There is nothing wrong with seeking help, and there should be no stigma about that. Some work-provided health insurance plans will cover appointments with licensed therapists.

How to Combat Depression in the Workplace

Now that you know what to say to someone who is depressed, it's time to think about larger solutions. One key way to combat depression in the workplace is to have an employee wellness program with mental health components.

Employee wellness programs are designed to incentivize worker well-being to help improve productivity while lowering the costs of other health benefits, like health insurance, lower.

Plus, knowing that company leaders approve of an employee wellness program shows everyone at the office that the workplace cares about them as people, not just numbers. Keep an employee wellness program in mind when considering how best to handle anxiety and depression at your company.


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