How can you help clients better help their employees when it comes to depression? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Depression and its effects on the workplace are a growing concern for many of your clients. That’s because approximately 7 percent of American adults experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2015 alone.

Related: Employers look for mental health treatment solutions

Depression can greatly impact a workforce. Not only do employees who experience depression have the potential to contribute to lost productivity due to presenteeism, which is the practice of an employee coming to work while experiencing a medical condition, but a severe incidence of depression could require an employee to take a disability leave.

An employee’s absence can cause an employer additional productivity issues due to finding a temporary worker or putting additional work on other employees.

Employers often have different reactions when trying to assist or accommodate an employee with a mental health condition, such as depression. For some, it could be easy to perceive an employee with depression as less productive, too costly or too much of a hassle to accommodate.

On the other hand, many employers have good intentions to provide support to an employee, but they may be hesitant to reach out for fear of being on the wrong side of compliance regulations.

Related: 5 ways employers can help combat mental health issues in the workplace

As your clients may not know the best approach to helping employees with depression or where to start, they may call you for advice on how to best handle these situations. The good news is you and your client can partner with your disability carrier to make sure your client’s most pressing questions about managing depression in the workforce are answered.

Identifying an employee in need of assistance

An employee with depression is often difficult to recognize, given the general lack of physical or visual symptoms. In addition, the stereotypical “sad and mopey” behavior associated with depression is often not present in significantly depressed employees. In fact, these types of conditions generally are first noticed only when an employee has a problem focusing and productivity suffers.

An employer who spots signs of depression — particularly early on — may be able to help an employee avert a disability leave. Not only does this approach help an affected employee seek the needed treatment, but also, noticing the warning signs early may help minimize productivity decreases in the workplace.

You can help your clients in this area by connecting them with their disability carrier. An employer can work together with a consultant from their disability carrier to discuss these common signs:

-A lack of focus or concentration
-Procrastination or missed deadlines
-A decline in hygiene and attention to personal appearance
-Difficulties with memory or learning
-An uptick in late arrivals or early departures

Approaching an employee and providing support

While clients want to help an employee who is struggling with depression at work, the sensitive nature of a mental health condition can make it hard for them to understand the best way to reach out and provide support to an employee. You can assist clients here by again connecting them with their disability carrier.

A disability carrier’s consultant works with your client to help them determine how to approach the employee and get them in touch with resources that can help in their treatment efforts.

As simple as it sounds, being open and accepting about mental health issues can go a long way toward a healthier workplace. An employee with depression can benefit from knowing his or her employer is genuinely concerned with improving their health and wellness in the workplace and that their employer does not discriminate against or marginalize those with mental health issues.

When contacting an employee to address work-related challenges, encourage your client to approach these discussions with empathy. It’s important to focus on what behaviors the employee is exhibiting in the workforce, rather than overreaching theories.

For example, instead of saying, “You look anxious” or “You look tired,” clients should try “I see you’ve missed a few days of work lately. Is everything OK?”

From there, the conversation can move to the types of accommodations or support the employee may need to treat his or her condition. For an employee returning to work or hoping to stay at work, this could include providing an employee with a flexible schedule to make sure he or she could attend doctors’ appointments, adjusting their workload to include fewer projects to make sure they have the time they need to carry tasks to completion, or temporarily moving a desk to a quiet location so they could focus.

In addition, initially assigning easily accomplished tasks can help an employee regain feelings of independence and self-efficacy.

Leveraging additional resources

Another way to help clients in addressing mental health issues is by highlighting the natural partnership that exists between a disability carrier and your client’s employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs are one of the most effective ways to support an employee who is dealing with a mental health issue, such as depression.

One often under-communicated benefit of an EAP is that three to six visits for treatment are often covered for assistance with regarding job stress, family issues, alcohol and substance abuse. An EAP also can offer referrals to a provider if the employee needs ongoing treatment.

The consultant from your disability carrier can help here too by reaching out to an employee to recommend he or she connect with the EAP for treatment and support, and can check back with the employee to ensure they’ve followed through. This connection to an EAP can help your clients make better use of their entire employee benefits offering, ensuring resources don’t go unused.

You can play an important role in helping clients mitigate or reduce the impact of depression in their workplace. Not only does connecting a client with the resources from their disability carrier help ensure an employee gets the right support he or she needs to stay at work or return to work after experiencing depression, but it can also have a very noticeable impact on the overall health and productivity of their workplace.