How do you spot depression effects in a work colleague? Answer: You don't. Have you ever heard anything like, "I say, old Cynthia needs to take it easy. She's heading for a bout of depression, if she's not careful." Or, "I think I detect a number of probable depression effects in you, George. Time you took a few days off to recover, old chap."
The point is, nobody at work is looking out for you. Nobody has it in their brief to keep an eye open for signs of stress in colleagues. There may be those who find out after you're on sick leave that they should have been watching you, but that's just part of the blame game. The truth is, everyone should be alert to the effects of stress at work and they should be watching not just their colleagues but themselves.
How, then, can you tell when you're depressed, or when a colleague is depressed? To start with, you're not looking for the guy with a glum face, who's forever telling you how bored and depressed he is and how he's had enough of this place and how the boss is always picking on him... no, he's not depressed, he's just a plain old loser. The one who's depressed is the one at his desk, apparently toiling away, staying behind, working late, the busy guy who can always cope with one more task. Or the teacher who had a week off with 'flu in October, came back to work for ten days and now, at the end of November, is off again with suspected "kidney problems."
Stress at work is mostly caused by new tasks being piled upon uncompleted tasks, without regard to how you're coping. The only time it gets noticed is when the boss's boss asks what happened about that report. Suddenly, "that report" in the middle of the pile on your desk is the most urgent job in the office. You're the focus of attention because you failed to deliver. What happens now is that you're stuck in the "deadly embrace" that leads to depression. You tell yourself you can't do this job, because it depends on your completing that job. That job, on the other hand, requires you to finish this job first, hence the deadly embrace, or deadlock.
Until you can break out of this deadlock, you're doomed to have worry swirling around in your head. You'll be incapable of carrying out the most straightforward of tasks because you feel you should be getting on with the important (deadlocked) jobs. All the while, more work is piling up and nobody cares about holding it back while you clear up your backlog. So, you sit there, "preparing" to do your work but never actually starting. This carries over to your domestic life. You might take work home with you and everyone can see how busy you are, but what they don't know is that your not really doing anything.
At this point, the very best thing for you would be to do the equivalent of going bankrupt, you might call it going "workrupt." The idea of bankruptcy is to give a second chance to someone who's tried their best and yet been financially overwhelmed by circumstances. What happens is that they declare themselves bankrupt and pretty much all their debts are canceled. They remain bankrupt for a period of time, during which they can earn money, but there are financial restrictions placed upon them. It sounds a good idea, don't you think, to be able to do that at work, when you get overwhelmed by your job.
Whatever you want to call it, go to your boss, talk about the situation and put forward this proposal. Although neither of you may realize it at this stage, if nothing is done, then you're headed for a lengthy period away from work. If that can be averted, it's in the best interests of both you and your employer. Keep these two things in mind:
- You have nothing to lose (and neither does your boss)
- It's not your fault that you're in this situation.
You may be afraid to do that right now, but if you contemplate the alternatives, that may give you enough resolve to summon up the courage to do it. On the one hand, you may be given the chance to start over with a clear desk. Maybe the thought of that fills you with hope. You possibly feel that, with a chance for a new start, you can avoid whatever it was that went wrong before. On the other hand, you face the prospect of taking odd days off work to begin with, followed by a full-blown old-fashioned nervous breakdown, in other words, clinical depression.
Take the bull by the horns then. Grit your teeth, say to yourself, "Do It Now", and just go and talk about it. One point though - make sure you get everything out in the open at this meeting and make it clear between yourself and your boss just what the outcome is going to be. If you leave anything up in the air, you may find your desk still has enough left on it to make life difficult again in a short while.
Perhaps though, you're not the one who's under stress but you've recognized depression effects in a colleague. You must do something about this. Whether you are your colleague's manager or a peer, the right thing to do is to try to help remove the stress. Bring your concerns to the attention of someone who can do something about it. If you're a manager, then it will pay huge dividends if you spot these problems at an early stage and help the employee through the difficulty. You'll find yourself gaining the respect of your fellow workers, as someone who cares. If you are in higher management, then you should foster a spirit of identity so that employees have each others' welfare at heart and are not afraid to voice their worries to management.