Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dealing With Depression at Work

Depression is unbelievably common. 1 in 4 will be diagnosed with depression at some point in their life and it is the number 1 condition treated by GPs in the UK. Despite the commonality of it, it still carries a stigma of somehow meaning that you are weak and lack mental strength, which is quite frankly absolute nonsense. Depression is completely indiscriminate and has hit some of the most extraordinary and influential people in our history, including Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin.

If you are a sufferer, you will no doubt have realised that it is a pretty horrible thing to deal with. Firstly you will need to admit that you are ill, which is tough. The signs are often subtle and creep up on you over a period of time. You learn to accept that you feel sluggish, unhappy, irritable and weepy all of the time and make excuses for it just being the way things are at the moment and that in time your mood will lift. Sadly, this is not the case. You can't snap out of 'clinical depression' you are ill and need medical treatment and probably some time off work to rest and get better. You wouldn't hesitate to take time off work if you had a serious illness of any kind, but for some reason we struggle to acknowledge 'depression' as a reason to rest and recuperate.

Some people will only ever get depression at one time in their life, caused by something like a bereavement or childbirth but for some reason, others suffer again and again throughout their life and will need to learn to manage the condition long term. With this in mind, you should know that it is perfectly plausible to hold down a good job and continue to progress through your career with depression. If you are currently suffering with depression for the 1st time you probably think I am talking rubbish, but believe me once the dark cloud has lifted, you will find that you can see things with a better perspective than you have ever done.

My husband has bad asthma. When he has an attack, his breathing capacity is severely restricted. Normally however his breathing is better than mine. He gets a device from the doctor which you use to measure the output of your lungs and he is always miles better than me, except during a asthma attack. Think about this and depression. Yes, in the throws of a severe attack of depression, your mental capacity is poor. Concentration is not good, you will be overly emotional, either irritable or weepy or both and you will have a very pessimistic view on life. Once your mood lifts and you will have inevitably spent weeks or months in self analysis, you will come out the other side, unbelievably self aware, more patient and empathetic. You will certainly have more control over your own moods and emotions and your optimism will return. In effect you will have more control and mental strength than those who have never suffered with the illness.

I have worked successfully with depression for years. It has not always been easy I admit, but it is possible. Every employer is different and you may face some difficulties from those who are ignorant of the condition. Unfortunately this is inevitable. The law however is on your side. In the UK 'depression' is covered by the 'Disability Discrimination Act' (DDA) and as such your employer cannot punish you or treat you differently because you have the condition. Depression is not straightforward however in relation to the DDA, as there are certain exclusions. Firstly depression as a one off condition is not covered. The way the act looks at depression is that you must have suffered or are likely to suffer for 12 months or more to be covered by the act. Employment law is really complicated, but in layman's terms it has to be a long term condition to consider the DDA applicable in your case. The effect the condition has on your day to day life, should be measured within the act as to how you would be able to function WITHOUT medication. If you are unsure, you should seek independent legal advice.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you should make sure that you have done certain things. Firstly, you must let your employer know that you have the condition. They are not mind readers, they cannot be expected to know just from your behaviour. If you choose to keep it secret, you have no rights under the DDA.

Secondly, before you take any legal action, you must raise a grievance and give your company an opportunity to address your concerns within their internal processes. If after this you are not satisfied, then you should attempt to take a legal route. This kind of case is very difficult to prove so make sure you keep any documentary evidence and if possible get witnesses who are willing to speak up for you. This is not going to be easy, as these people will still be working for the company and might feel threatened or intimidated by the thought of upsetting their bosses. It is much much better to deal with these things amicably within the company, if it is at all possible.

You could, if the company has this service, ask for a 'Occupational Health' adviser to do a work place assessment to look at the factors present in the workplace, that may have a detrimental effect on your health. Your employer has to, under the DDA make 'reasonable adjustments' to help you manage your condition. I would say it is better to work with them than to make unreasonable demands. A reasonable adjustment might be flexibility over your hours, for example you may have bouts of insomnia and if that is the case, perhaps allow you to start later in the day and finish later. You might be allowed to work from home 2 days a week or work from an office closer to home. Remember that you should still be able to do the job you are paid to do. If your condition means that the job is no longer suitable and after trying to find an alternative position within the company you have not found a job which you can do, your employer can terminate your contract on 'capability grounds'. This basically means you are no longer able to do the job you are paid to do, therefore they do not need to continue to employ you.

I see no reason why, if you have your medication right, you cannot continue to work effectively. You may need to ask yourself the question as to how much of your job is causing you to be depressed. That's a tough one, but the reality is that if your job is the major factor, then you will never be fully well until you change it. You will just be papering over the cracks until the next bad attack.

For more information and self help on depression, my website is www.crazymadbonkers.com

Good luck

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