Last week, Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk announced she’s taking a four-week leave of absence to seek treatment for depression. Today on Think, Krys Boyd talked to a UT-Southwestern psychiatrist about depression in the workplace.
Tell your boss you need a day off to fight the flu or a month off for open-heart surgery, and you’ll probably be told to get well soon and take as much time as you need.
Telling your boss you need time off because you’re depressed, though, isn’t as easy.
“Because we don’t have long-term follow-up data – we don’t have the lab test – we’re not really at a point where people accept it as an illness. There are still a lot of people who think of depression as some kind of weakness," says, Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
He says that, tough as it may be, it’s important to inform a supervisor when a bout of depression hits.
“It is very good to recognize on both sides – on the employer side as well as the employee side – so that they’re not seen as people who are shirking their responsibility," he says. "There’re some days when they just cannot function.”
That’s something a sympathetic boss will understand. If you’re not so lucky, though, Trivedi says there can be a downside to opening up.
“Two months from now, and two years from now, that same employer or supervisor will continuously write off your behaviors they don’t like as part of depression. When all you were doing, for example, six months later when you’re back to normal, you disagree with your boss, because the boss is wrong. And yet the boss feels empowered to write it off as your depression.’”
Trivedi says that stigma has to change. That requires companies to provide an environment in which employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health.
“At work, I think that employers have to begin to give their employees permission to talk about it – express the fact that they have clinical depression, they are wanting to or seeking treatment and, really, make this like any other medical disease," he says. "It has its problems, it does lead to a dysfunction at work and other places, but it also is treatable.”
And, as Trivedi says, many people with depression go on to function very well once they’ve had a chance to seek help.