How to Recognize a Depressed Co-Worker and What to Do

Your co-worker suddenly seems withdraw and nonresponsive. You aren’t sure if you should intrude. Is the person depressed or just reflecting on some things? The last thing you want to do is intrude if it is just a passing mood. Knowing how to recognize a depressed co-worker and what to do, however, just might save a life.

Has There Been a Change in Worker?

Depression can manifest in many different ways. Some people withdraw into themselves while others act out. Some basic things to look for include:

  • Not finishing important projects
  • Massive and frequent errors in work
  • Forgetting meetings and commitments
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Withdrawing from work or colleagues
  • Drastic changes in appearance or lack of personal hygiene
  • Seems exhausted

These can all be warning signs that a co-worker might be depressed. In addition, people who feel hopeless may sometimes communicate that. If someone states that they wish they were dead or are going to kill themselves, never assume they are just being dramatic. It could be a cry for help.

Actions to Take

Just knowing how to recognize a depressed co-worker isn’t enough. You also need to understand what to do to help that person.

  • Make sure someone in management knows your concerns about the other person’s well-being. Obviously, your goal is not to get the other worker in trouble, but at the same time management is better trained in how to deal with a depressed employee than you might be.
  • Tell your co-worker that you’re concerned about her and point out the things you’ve noticed that have changed. For example, you might say, “It seems like you’re very tired lately and you no longer eat lunch with the rest of the staff.”
  • Offer a solution, but don’t get embroiled in the other employee’s personal problems. For example, if she confesses that she’s dealing with an abusive relationship, express your sympathy and point out that the company health plan will cover some counseling so she can figure out how to get to a safe place and overcome the sadness she is feeling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year around 9.5% of adults experience an episode of depression. It is likely that you or a co-worker will deal with depression at some point in your work life. Remember that depression should be treated by a trained professional, so your goal should always be to guide your co-worker to professional help in a kind and responsible way.