3 ways to counsel employers through an employee's depression-related return to work
At any given time in the United States, an estimated 1 in 10 adults reports symptoms that would qualify for a diagnosis of depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While not all of these diagnoses require a leave from work, its estimated that employees in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives contribute to more than 68 million missed workdays each year, according to a July 2013 Gallup poll.
These statistics are staggering, but whats more is that many employers are uncertain about where to start when helping an employee return to work after a depressive episode. As October is National Depression Awareness Month, consider these ways you can help your employer clients navigate this important but often uncharted territory.
1) Connect with the employers disability carrier
A good first step is to connect with the mental health experts at the employers disability carrier, if possible. Mental health case managers spend their days helping employees return to work and can offer invaluable insights to ensure an employees return to work is successful. This includes understanding the employees job role, working with the employees medical team and helping an employer with any questions they may have during the process. A beneficial alternative may be to connect with the employers employee assistance program.
2) Focus on a plan
Helping an employee return to work successfully involves a plan. Counsel employers to work to find a return-to-work date that makes sense for them and the employee. In addition, the plan should clearly define duties and responsibilities for the employee, especially if the employee is coming back to a temporary job or modified schedule.
3) Encourage communication
Those who havent struggled with depression may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or may feel as though they are prying when asking foundational questions to help an employee return to work. Its important for employers to reach out early and not wait until the day an employee comes back to work to start the communication process. Many employees on disability leave dont hear from their employer in anything other than an official capacity (letters from HR regarding benefits, etc.). Depression often robs people of their sense of self-worth, and they withdraw. Simply communicating concern and the desire to help the employee back to work can be very meaningful.
Returning to work following a significant episode of depression may seem impossible to an employee. But helping employers prepare for and communicate during this process can help employees return to healthier, more fully functioning lives.
Guardalabene, PsyD, is a mental health case manager with Standard Insurance Company. Before joining The Standard, Guardalabene worked in disability evaluation at a college counseling center and as a psychologist in private practice.
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