Can you recognize depression in a coworker? Do you know what to do?

Most of us by now have seen the signs of depression and probably think we know what it looks like. You may be familiar with these symptoms:

  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won’t go away
  • Digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

You can find these anywhere…this particular list was on

These are important to know, of course, but have you noticed if a co-worker is:

  • Not physically taking care of himself: Combing hair, brushing teeth, showering?
  • Drinking more than usual?
  • Showing addictive tendencies: Gambling? Internet? Shopping?
  • More reactive and/or angry than usual?
  • Having relationship problems?
  • Missing a lot of work lately

These are some more subtle symptoms that might prompt a compassionate response from you.

What you can do:

  • Talk to him/her. Sometimes, just offering to have a cup of coffee or a lunch date helps.
  • Express interest/concern. “Hey you seem down lately; would you like to chat? Or Can I help?”
  • If he/she is willing to accept help, refer to a therapist.
  • Give caring eye contact.
  • Assure him/her that he/she can call you any time. (If in fact, you mean it.)
  • Validate. Ask how you can help?
  • IF he/she expresses suicidal thoughts or plan, offer to drive him/her to the emergency room. Or call the police.

What not to do:

  • Play can you top this? Do not say, “You think you have it bad, you should hear what I’m going through.”
  • Try to placate by saying “It will get better.” Or “It’s no big deal.”
  • Give unsolicited advice. “You know what you should do?”
  • Say, “I know how you feel.”
  • Try to fix it.
  • Discuss his/her problems with others in the office. (The exception to this is if he/she has expressed suicidal thoughts and refuses to get help; you might want to approach a trustworthy leader at the office, and approach him/her together kindly but seriously.) OR (If his/her work is really suffering and you’ve approached him about it and he doesn’t change his ways; then it could share your concerns with a manager or proper supervisor.)

The most important thing is to show empathy and compassion, make yourself available to chat and if you are concerned about his safety, seek help right away.




1 Comment

  1. Remember, it’s not up to you to fix it. Just noticing and expressing interest and concern can be a huge help.

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