It’s fair to say that there can be some uncertainty for employers when it comes to considering reasonable adjustments for an employee suffering with depression.
Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you think, feel and act.
The mental health charity Mind states that in its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits and at its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live (1)
Employers should be aware that there are cases where the condition may be recognised as a disability. A mental health condition can be considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. This is defined under the Equality Act 2010 (2)
A condition is ‘long term’ if it lasts, or is likely to last, 12 months. ‘Normal day-to-day activity’ is defined as something you do regularly in a normal day. This includes things like using a computer, working set times or interacting with people.
Employers will be well versed in what is required in terms of making reasonable adjustments (3) for an employee with a physical disability.
Adjustments for an employee suffering with depression, whether or not it is recognised as a disability, should be carefully considered.
The best way to discover what adjustments can benefit an individual in such cases is to have a conversation with them. Enquire what they need, focus on what they can do and not what they cannot do and agree the terms on how any adjustments will be implemented.
There can be a range of adjustments that can be considered and made to help an employee suffering with depression. Examples include:
Support with workload
Managing the expected workload can be problematic because of difficulty focusing, a loss of confidence or a tendency to take on too much. Duties can be removed or allocated to another member of staff to enable the individual to focus on tasks they can cope with.
Flexible working hours
Getting up early and commuting to work during rush hour can sometimes be difficult as a result of the side effects of medication or being in stressful situations, which can aggravate the symptoms of depression. Arranging agreeable hours can help to alleviate some of the pressure the individual may feel under. With the consent of the employee informing other colleagues should prevent any resentment that the individual is getting favourable treatement.
Support from others
Having a recognised and trusted point/s of contact can provide much needed reassurance that help is at hand if needed.
The place of work may be noisy and have many distractions and where possible moving work space for example to a private office or quieter area may be beneficial.
Good management of employees suffering with depression or any other mental health illness can have a range of benefits, which include: reduction of sickness absence; greater staff engagement and productivity; reduced staff turnover and recruitment and costs.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does state that one in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point, with anxiety and depression the most common mental health problems (4) The HSE has produced guidance on the matter and although it is mainly focused on work-related stress it is helpful as if that condition is prolonged it can lead to depression
Many employees will understandably be wary of disclosing that they are suffering from depression. Reasons for this can vary and include embarrassment, fear it will be viewed negatively or seen as a sign of weakness.
The stigma around depression is thankfully being lifted, which has been helped by a number of high-profile celebrities talking openly about their battle with what can be a debilitating illness.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has admitted she had ‘suicidal thoughts’ while suffering from depression after her first marriage broke down (5)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of Hollywood’s highest-paid stars, has also spoken openly about his struggle with depression. (6)
Employers should make it clear to all staff that their mental health matters, support is available and it will be treated just as seriously as physical health.
1. Depression symptoms [Internet] Mind www.mind.org.uk [Cited 14.1.19] https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/#.XDoqy1z7TIU
2. Equality Act 2010 [Internet] [www.legislation.gov.uk [cited 14.1.19] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/6
3. Reasonable Adjustments [Internet] worksmart.org.uk [Cited 14.1.19] www.worksmart.org.uk https://worksmart.org.uk/work-rights/discrimination/disability-discrimination/what-are-reasonable-adjustments
5. Harry Potter Writer admitted suicidal thoughts [Internet] BBC News [cited 14.1.19] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7310534.stm
6. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson speaks about struggle with depression [Internet] The Guardian Cited 14.1.19] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/apr/03/crying-constantly-dwayne-the-rock-johnson-reveals-teen-depression-battle
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