Singing the blues of recession depression

One in four people will suffer from some form of depression during the course of a year and the workplace is a major culprit. It can also be a solution to the problem, says TV star and Black Dog Tribe founder Ruby Wax.

by Ruby Wax
Last Updated: 27 Apr 2012

In 1975 The Bay City Rollers were number one in the UK charts. How depressing was that? This week the UK economy has headed back into recession, the first double-dip recession since The Rollers sang Bye Bye Baby to crowds of screaming girls who didn’t know any better.

The problem with economic recessions, especially double-dip ones, is that they can be unforgiving. They have no sense of history, no sense of compassion. They can bring out the worst in people, the worst in businesses and managers, in 1975 and in 2012, and always worryingly can drive up stress and depression in the workplace.

Whether you believe in it or not, depression does exist with 1 in 4 people experiencing some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain.

The problem a lot of business managers have with depression is that it can’t be seen. It’s not like a broken leg. There are no obvious physical symptoms and therefore it cannot be judged without a full understanding of the problem.

That in itself seems to be a problem. Depression costs British businesses billions a year in potential lost earnings – about £9bn according to Parliament (All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics – Dec 2011). And what about the people who commit suicide due to depression? Well, they chalk up a further £1.47bn in lost earnings. How inconsiderate.

Despite these shocking figures, there is a stigma attached to depression and stress that is seemingly hard to shift. Depression is one of those terms that is perhaps a little over-used. We’ve all done it and all heard it. Most people have at some point talked about "being depressed", usually about the weather, but there is a belief, particularly within business, that it’s just an excuse to get off work for a bit or, if you are a man you are just a 'big girl’s blouse' for not coping. This has a knock-on effect. Depression is not taken seriously and real sufferers can be ignored and sometimes bullied.

So how do you treat it? What can businesses do about it? In the 70s it was more a case of getting plugged into a three pin socket for some shock therapy, heavy medication with massive side-effects or just giving it the British stiff upper lip and carrying on into a downward spiral towards the abyss. Thirty seven years later and has anything changed?

It’s slow progress, but there is at least progress. Firstly managers need to understand that depression costs. It can eat into profits. Managing depression in the workplace can not only improve people’s lives it can increase productivity. To manage it, you have to believe it exists and understand it. Happy staff and so on.

Jo Swinson MP has recognised this too. She has pushed for parliament to accept that 'depression is a serious condition that can profoundly diminish a person’s wellbeing,' and to recognise that 'psychological cognitive-behavioural therapy is an effective and scientifically validated form of treatment.'

This is why we set up Black Dog Tribe, to provide a sort of social therapy platform, where sufferers and carers can share experiences and hopefully help each other. Encouraging staff to talk about their problems, either with fellow sufferers on social sites such as ours or through many of the excellent charities is a first step in managing the problem and businesses should actively encourage this. Providing an open, encouraging and understanding work environment will do wonders for staff morale anyway but also reduce the risks of depression in the workforce.

As more businesses than ever come under increasing stress due to recession and competition, managers too become susceptible to pressure, the sort of pressure perhaps that even Winston Churchill experienced during one of his 'black dog days'. This isn’t about sad people playing banjos because their baby’s left them.  Unfortunately this is serious stuff, for businesses and their valuable employees.

To find out more about the Black Dog Tribe, visit www.blackdogtribe.com

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