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In this blog post volunteer project assistant Bianca Jensen discusses the equality and rights implications of depression in the workplace.
Depression affects a huge amount of the people in our society, and if you have it, you may know it’s often missed when we talk of equality and rights.
Depression can be harder to spot than physical disabilities but can still have a huge impact on our lives. The experience can be made worse because we can hide how we feel due to stigma, feelings of inadequacy and shame. The impact of depression also flows into our work lives and can result in discrimination.
Personal Experience of Depression at Work
Susan who’s been a long-time sufferer of depression shared her experiences. “The anxiety from past negative experiences can stay with a person for a long time. I still remember the cruel words of people, voicing opinions about me that weren’t constructive or kind. At the time I knew I was falling behind in things, coming in late and becoming reactive. I found it incredibly difficult to deal with this since I felt out of control and helpless to change. The cutting remarks from managers and co-workers just added to the shame and isolation I was feeling. They ultimately added to my lack of self-esteem which kept me in the downward spiral longer”
In my experience, one reason this kind of discrimination happens is because it’s not understood, therefore the symptoms are attributed to something else. An example is when someone starts coming into work late, losing confidence and their productivity falls compared to their workmates. A colleague or manager may assume that they are just being inconsiderate and a bad employee but it’s the underlying issue of depression, not a character flaw.
Equalities Act 2010
A very important thing to know is that the Equalities Act 2010 classifies depression as a disability and therefore it’s covered by the same protections as other disabilities. This means that an employer can’t treat someone less favourably or fire them based on depression or for a reason relating to depression.
Employers are also under a responsibility to implement a reasonable adjustment to the workplace or the role if the disability puts the employee at a substantial disadvantage compared to their colleagues. In plain language this means that if you’re finding it much harder than your workmates because of depression, your employer needs to put things in place that can help you. These can be a wide range of things like allowing time away from work for appointments, time to collect yourself during stressful times or giving you a permanent desk rather than hot desk if you’ve got social anxiety. The changes vary between people and workplaces.
Benefits of a Diverse Workplace
In case you feel worried about asking for special treatment or being a bother, there’s a lot of research that states having a diverse workplace can be better for everyone involved. The benefits are substantial and include:
- Having a range of perspectives and ideas which fosters creativity and innovation
- A raised profile in the community
- Growing your talent pool by attracting a wider range of candidates to vacancies
- Improving morale when people know inclusivity is important. This can lead to better working environments and increased productivity
Personal Experience after Learning Coping Strategies
Susan is now in a much better space. She knows her own early signs of depression and has systems in place for heading it off before it gets too bad. She also deals with work better by knowing her limitations. “While before I used to run myself ragged trying to accomplish everything and more, I’ve now got an appreciation of working smarter not harder to get the work done. I’ve also acknowledged my perfectionist and people pleasing tendencies and know not everything will be 100% up to my standards, or all people happy, but that’s ok”. These things are all a part of a bigger plan to prioritise taking care of herself. She also mentioned that “I think I’m a sincerely happier person now and more capable of dealing what the world throws at me in a healthy way.”
It’s good to be aware that depression can be part of “intersectional” or “multiple” discrimination. This is where people have several protected characteristics therefore experience a more severe form of discrimination. When dealing with other types of discrimination depression can sometimes compound the problem.
This blog only scratches the surface of this subject, so if you want more information please read Blurt it out’s article, Depression: Your Rights at work, which covers your rights in much more detail.
My favourite quote that helped cut through some of my own fear and shame is that “having depression doesn’t mean you’re weak, you’ve just been strong far too long”.
A note for those dealing with depression: You are not alone, and it does get better! Reach out to someone you trust, and if they don’t understand keep trying other people until you find someone who does. Talk to a doctor and discuss options, there are a lot of options out there.
If you need help please contact one of the NHS recommended helplines here.
This applies to UK only, different countries will have different laws.