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Recognising the serious impact of depression on workers

Published 21 August 2017

It's certainly not uncommon nowadays to hear someone utter the words 'I'm feeling a bit down, think I'm depressed" such a statement can often trivialise what can be a debilitating illness.

Depression (1) is a serious medical condition that has a direct, significant and a detrimental impact on how a sufferer feels, thinks and acts.

It is far more than just feeling a bit sad. It is a condition where the sufferer feels negative for a very long time and it affects their life. Many people with depression also suffer from anxiety.

The NHS describes the various symptoms of depression (2). The psychological symptoms of depression include:

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem 
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others 
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • feeling anxious or worried 
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

The physical symptoms of depression include:

  • moving or speaking more slowly than usual 
  • changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased) 
  • constipation 
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • lack of energy
  • low sex drive (loss of libido)
  • changes to your menstrual cycle
  • disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning

The social symptoms of depression include:

  • not doing well at work
  • avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
  • neglecting your hobbies and interests
  • having difficulties in your home and family life

In recent years the stigma around depression has been lifted with several high-profile celebrities such as singer Lady Gaga openly discussing their personal battle with the condition. (3)

Research by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) revealed that less than half of people suffering from depression or anxiety lasting more than 12 months are in work (4). The TUC said the findings showed the government and employers must do more to support mental health conditions.

Employers need to be aware that a worker who has suffered from depression long-term is likely to have what is considered a disability.

A mental health condition is considered a disability in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 if it is long-term, if it lasts or is likely to last 12 months, and has an effect on an individual’s normal day-to-day activity

Normal day-to-day activity’ means performing tasks such as using a computer, working set times or interacting with people.

In recent years there has been an increase in worker’s being diagnosed with work-related stress. The indirect effects of stress can cause depression. The Health and Safety Executive has produced a guide titled stress and mental health at work (5). By now all employers will be aware that workers with disabilities are protected by law in terms of their employment.

Equality law (6) means employers should look to remove barriers and provide extra support to assist a worker with disability, such as clinical depression. This is known as a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Making reasonable adjustments (6) will ensure that workers with a disability have the same access to everything as non-disabled colleagues.

When the duty arises to make reasonable adjustment an employer is under a positive and proactive duty to take steps to remove or reduce or prevent the obstacles faced by a disabled worker or job applicant.

Adjustments can only be made where the organisation are aware, or should reasonably be aware, of a worker’s disability.


  1. Choices NHS. Clinical depression - NHS Choices [Internet]. 2017. Available from:
  2. Choices NHS. Clinical depression - Symptoms - NHS Choices [Internet]. 2017. Available from:
  3. Lady Gaga talking about her depression won’t cure anyone else [Internet]. The Independent. 2016. Available from:
  4. Nichols T. Only 1 in 4 people with a long-term mental illness are in work, says TUC [Internet]. TUC. 2017. Available from:
  5. Work related stress – Stress and Mental Health at Work [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jul 31]. Available from:
  6. The employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments [Internet]. Available from:

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