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As leaves change color and days grow shorter in preparation for winter, it's a great time to check in on your mental health and build awareness around the signs and symptoms of depression.
Congress designated the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week in 1990. Since then, October 6 has become National Depression Screening Day.
Practically speaking, just like screenings for physical health conditions, screenings are available for depression. Mental Health America offers convenient, free, and confidential online screening services. This resource is invaluable, particularly in times of financial stress.
The importance of national depression screening day
Every year, nearly 10% of Americans suffer from a depressive illness, with women experiencing nearly double the likelihood as their male counterparts. National Depression Screening Day serves as a vital reminder and opportunity to get screened and seek assistance.
Mental health providers, hospitals, clinics, schools, and other community organizations use October 6 as an opportunity to provide free mental health screenings and educate individuals about their mental health—both online and in person. Depression screenings can take as few as five minutes to complete, with longer options lasting up to 30 minutes.
Early detection is critical. Identifying symptoms before they escalate can save lives, prevent suicides, increase employee morale, and improve overall psychological well-being.
Employees are more likely to be happy at work and with their employers if depression is treated earlier rather than later. Additionally, employees who are screened and seek help like therapy or medication assistance are less likely to have performance and attendance issues.
The financial stress-depression connection
Inflation, layoffs, and recessions, while distinct challenges, all have one thing in common: they reduce the strength of the American dollar. Under this financial stress, the fundamental aspects of our lives—from paying bills to pursuing dreams like owning a home or saving for education—become chronic sources of stress.
The strain is magnified for single-income households, often resulting in a significant decline in their quality of life. The repercussions can lead to financial stress and trigger depression.
Data from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found some sobering facts about how financial stressors compound mental health issues:
- 86% of survey respondents stated that increased financial pressures worsened their mental health issues.
- Individuals experiencing depression and problematic debt are 4.2 times more likely to still deal with depression 18 months later.
- 72% of respondents said mental health issues intensified their financial concerns.
While layoffs and recessions may be out of our control, managing our mental well-being and accessing essential support services can significantly ease the burden of these challenges.
Recognizing signs of depression
Depression manifests in many ways, encompassing a spectrum of symptoms and severity levels. HR and People leaders can monitor the following signs in employees:
- Lack of interest in activities
- Feelings of guilt
- Difficulty concentrating
- Struggles with decision-making
- Change in appetite
- Sleep issues
- Decreased energy levels
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Suicidal plans or attempts
Financial stressors often exacerbate emotional distress, leading employees to exhibit altered behaviors such as increased social withdrawal, substance abuse, heightened anger, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, chronic tardiness, or frequent absences from work.
This emotional burden can also manifest physically, with common symptoms including headaches and increased fatigue. Individuals may find it challenging to function when these symptoms converge, potentially deepening their depression.
How to get help and screened for depression
Fortunately, many services are available to screen for depression and facilitate last support for employees. Common services include talk therapy, medical interventions, counseling, and support groups.
Talking to a mental health professional can help alleviate isolation, reassuring individuals that they’re not alone in their struggles. It provides a space to address fears and bridges the gap to necessary services, guiding individuals toward solutions.
Depression screenings can take place online or in person. They typically involve a series of questions designed to assist practitioners in identifying whether a depression diagnosis is warranted. One widely used tool, the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), prompts individuals to assess the frequency of common symptoms on a scale.
Mental health providers conducting these screenings must adhere to HIPAA privacy requirements. This means that the individual's responses remain confidential unless there is a credible concern about potential harm to themselves or others.
Self-care strategies for mental well-being
Navigating financial stress while safeguarding your mental health requires a strong self-care routine to prioritize your well-being.
While some may resort to unhealthy coping behaviors such as emotional eating or alcohol dependence, plenty of healthier, more effective options can reinforce your resilience and nurture mental strength.
Mindfulness practices, regular exercise, and relaxation techniques can significantly enhance your overall well-being. These practices help you feel your best and enable you to focus your attention and manage your thoughts, even during challenging circumstances. For instance, walking around your neighborhood can reduce cortisol levels and release serotonin, effectively combating depression.
Equally important is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Despite mounting pressure to work overtime or seek additional employment, it’s crucial to prioritize rest and relaxation. Daily and over weekends, the time spent away from work allows your body and mind to recuperate, preventing burnout.
How HR leaders can support mental well-being
HR leaders play valuable roles in supporting employees' mental well-being, especially during financial hardship. Several actionable strategies exist to help individuals access services and address depression before it severely impacts their lives.
- Ensuring awareness: Regularly communicate mental health benefits to both leaders and employees. Conduct in-services to familiarize employees with available programs and resources.
- Coaching support: Consider bringing in coaching support to reinforce the importance of work-life balance and mental health, providing employees with practical strategies for managing stress.
- Reducing stigma: Reassure employees that seeking help will not jeopardize their jobs. Address the fear of retaliation or stigma associated with mental health treatment, emphasizing that it’s a proactive step toward well-being.
- Normalizing mental health: Encourage employees to view mental health care as essential as physical health. Normalize discussions around mental health, fostering an environment where seeking support is encouraged.
- Regular check-ins: Establish a supportive rapport with struggling employees. For HR leaders who lack this connection, identify a colleague who can approach them respectfully, demonstrating empathy and understanding.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Explore EAPs offering free mental health services, including therapy and psychiatric consultants. Recognize that financial constraints deter employees from seeking. Providing free or low-cost services can be invaluable.
- Creating safe safes: HR leaders must create an environment where employees feel empowered to express concerns. Cultivate an atmosphere of care and support, reassuring employees that leadership is genuinely concerned about their well-being.
- Local resource support: Maintain a list of local food banks and free services. Providing this information shows HR’s commitment to supporting employees’ needs beyond the workplace.
By implementing these strategies, HR leaders can actively contribute to a workplace culture that values and prioritizes mental well-being, offering the necessary support and resources for employees facing financial stress and depression.
A path to mental health awareness and recovery
National Depression Screening Day is the perfect time for HR leaders and employees to familiarize themselves with available mental health services and participate in online or in-person screenings. These screenings, often taking less than 30 minutes, can help identify signs and symptoms before they escalate into more serious concerns.
Depression can affect us all, especially when facing financial stress or other mental health issues. Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a courageous step toward regaining control and finding the support necessary for resilience. In the face of overwhelming situations, reaching out for help can inspire hope and equip individuals with the tools needed to feel—and stay—better.
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