December 5, 2022

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Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Workplace Anxiety and Depression

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Workplace Anxiety and Depression

Why Fall may be the ideal time to train your team.

By Mike Armson and Dr. M Lee Freedman

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health challenge this year and it is estimated that every week, 500,000 people will not go to work due to mental illness. This is costing leaders an estimated $51 billion per year and of that, $20 billion is attributed to lost productivity in the workplace. Wellbeing in the workplace goes far beyond offering great benefits and striving for a dynamic culture. It requires professional education and training for leaders to be able to recognize signs of anxiety and depression in their employees, and then to respond appropriately to encourage them to get the help they need.

In 2019, we launched our Headway initiative after losing our founder, Luke Sklar, to depression. Since then, we’ve worked to guide company leaders to the resources and strategies available to help foster a mentally healthier workforce. Recognizing that we ourselves are not mental health experts, we lean on authorities in the space to inform our best practices and those we share with our valued clients and partners.

Back in May, as part of our annual mental health event in memory of Luke, we invited psychiatrist Dr. Lee Freedman and her partner, Luke’s marketing colleague, Hersh Forman to speak with our team about how to recognize and react to signs and symptoms of anxiety in the workplace. Now, in honour of Healthy Workplace Month, a national movement hosted in October by Excellence Canada since 2019 to promote mental health in the workplace, we would like to share our learnings from that session in a series of three blog posts. In our first post, we’ll define what anxiety and depression is, and how to recognize the signs in ourselves and others. Then in a second post next week, we will discuss how to respond to these symptoms. Finally, in Part 3, we will wrap up our series with how to create a workplace culture so that mental illnesses are prevented before they can start. We believe that prevention is the most effective strategy in the fight against anxiety and depression.

What is Anxiety and Depression?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), used by clinicians to diagnose mental disorders, anxiety is excessive worry and apprehensive expectations, which could be about several events or activities, such as work or school performance. Depression, on the other hand, is defined by persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.

Recognizing Signs of Depression/Anxiety in Ourselves

How do we recognize signs of depression/anxiety in ourselves? In general, we should self-monitor and look for persistent changes from our usual selves in our thinking, feeling, behaviour, and/or body functioning. A list of possible symptoms to watch out for can be found here. To be reflective of a true mental illness and not just a temporary change in mood, these symptoms would cause a noticeable impairment in one’s work, personal, and/or social functioning, and would persist for more than two weeks. That said, it is better to check in with ourselves more frequently and get ahead of symptoms before they progress to a diagnosable mental illness which would require intervention.

Recognizing Signs of Depression/Anxiety in Others

It is more difficult to recognize signs of mental illness in others because we don’t have access to that person’s thoughts and feelings. Unless the other person decides to share these thoughts and feelings with us, we may not be able to tell what they are going through. This kind of sharing will likely only happen in a relationship where there is a sense of trust and psychological safety.

What we can notice, however, like recognizing depression/anxiety symptoms in ourselves, is observable changes from a person’s usual behaviour. For example, a person may have a different posture than usual, or move slower. They may show signs of poor personal hygiene, appear shaky, or avoid eye contact. They may speak at a different volume or speed than normal or begin to speak incoherently. A person may withdraw and socialize less than normal, or there may be noticeable differences in their work performance (e.g., work quality, time management, ability to focus, productivity, absenteeism). Any of these could be signs a person is experiencing anxiety or depression, and that a response may be necessary.

It is important to emphasize, however, that mental health professionals are the only ones qualified to make a diagnosis that someone is experiencing a mental illness. For the rest of us, we may recognize that there is a mental health issue that requires a medical assessment, and we may steer a person toward getting the treatment they need, but we should never attempt to make a diagnosis ourselves. In Part 2 of this blog series, we will cover in more detail what an appropriate response would be in the case of recognizing anxiety or depression in another person.

With fall having arrived, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) could also have an impact on your team’s mental wellbeing. About 15% of Canadians will report at least a mild case of SAD in their lifetime, leaving them to feel symptoms of depression, lower energy levels, and increased irritability. This makes the start of Fall the perfect time to kick off mental health training for your team to equip them with the skills and understanding to better accommodate employees/colleagues when times get tough. The approaches above are a great way to start your journey towards year-round employee well-being, but the most effective solutions will always be custom for your unique set of circumstances and derived from professional training.

To learn more about how we’re helping businesses beat burnout and build mentally healthier workplaces, visit our Headway page or email us at he[email protected]