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Three Things To Know About Your Depressed Employee

David Sifry
Depression is a real and sometimes serious disease, but it's a treatable one. A patient's employer has to cooperate, though, experts say.

Depression in the workplace became a topic of conversation in our office - and maybe your office - after Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk announced last week she was taking an unpaid four-week leave to seek treatment for a serious episode.

Seven percent of American adults suffer that same illness in a given year, and many feel if their boss found out they'd lose their job. Dr. Madhukar Trivedi talked to Think host Krys Boyd about the need for employers to understand depression as the brain disease it is. 

Here's what Dr. Trivedi, who directs the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center, hopes supervisors take into account: 

1. Depression does not discriminate.

People with material wealth, success and love in their lives can still fall prey to depression. Reminding them of their many blessings will not help the failing circuits fire with clarity.

Trivedi explains it this way: If someone fell in the middle of the street and broke her leg, would you try to make her understand how good her life is otherwise? No. You would take her to the ER, and make sure she's set up with a cast and crutches. That same level of attention and acceptance is key for a depressed patient, Trivedi says. 

2. When someone suffers from depression, they should keep working if possible.

Symptoms of depression like social withdrawal, sleeplessness and an inability to concentrate do not create a productive headspace for depression sufferers. 

"It isn’t like you can put it in a separate corner," Trivedi says. "It remains with you 24 hours a day."

Still, part of treatment is to keep swimming. Trivedi advises those who are slipping to speak up to bosses or an HR administrator if they can. Asking for time off in severe cases can be necessary, but sometimes just making a colleague or supervisor aware of the problem can help a patient feel less alone. 

3. The stigma is not just inconvenient for workers who suffer from mental illness - it's dangerous. 

In the U.S. each year, 41,000 people die of suicide. Those who lose a battle with depression or bipolar disorder can often find a treatment that works for them, but only if they have support. 

"Employers have to begin to give employees permission to talk about it – make this like any other medical disease," Trivedi says.

Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Madhukar Trivedi. 

Think airs Monday through Thursday at noon and 9 p.m. on KERA 90.1. Stream the show live.