Looking out for those not coping – Understanding and helping with depression

Depression is a common yet serious form of mental illness. The current challenges and periods of prolonged stress associated with the pandemic are predicted to lead to an increased incidence of depression and other common mental illnesses. Even people who usually feel mentally healthy or who have no previous experience with mental illness, may be struggling at this time of change and uncertainty. This makes it as important as ever for us to be on the look out for those who may not be coping.

Depression in your community

In Australia, around 1 in 10 people reported experiencing depression over a one-year period (ABS, 2018), and the incidence of depression over a lifetime is around 1 in 7. With the recent challenges caused by the global pandemic and other community crises, there is reason to anticipate that this figure may rise. While various factors can influence the likelihood of developing depression e.g., heredity and biological factors, lifestyles, and demographic factors such as gender or occupation, a person’s current circumstances can also impact the onset, worsening or management of depression. This means during tough times of personal or community crises a person can be at increased risk.

Every workplace, school or local community will have many people experiencing diagnosable depression and periods of feeling depressed. You likely know several people with these experiences. You can help by recognising the signs that someone isn’t coping, offering your support to listen to their problems, and providing pathways to additional support if needed.

Understanding depression 

Depression is typically characterised by prolonged or severe low moods and feelings, which negatively impact quality of life. Depression is a serious illness and impacts people from all walks of life. It can be a temporary state or become a long-term illness. Either way, it can be managed with the right supports.

People with depression will typically need a mix of supports that may include professional interventions and treatments. Unfortunately, many people with depression do not get the support they need and continue to suffer in silence. Barriers such as stigma, fear, and access to supports may prevent a person from seeking help or from getting the treatment options they need. Many people will have long-term challenges arising from living with depression, which can impact the way they live, work, learn and/or socialise. Yet with the right supports, a person with depression can go on to recover or manage their condition in a way that allows them to thrive and lead healthy, happy, and productive lives. 

We can help people experiencing depression in our homes, workplaces, schools, and communities by understanding mental health, recognising the signs that someone isn’t coping, practicing caring conversations, and offering our support. 

    Depression in the workplace

    As Australians move towards new ways of working, often involving remote working, social restrictions, balancing of family and work life, additional work stresses and job uncertainty, there will need to be changes in the way that workplaces screen for and support those who are experiencing depression.

    Australian workplaces have a duty of care to employees in terms of workplace health and safety. Increasingly, there is a recognition that this must also include psychological and mental well-being. Workplaces are an ideal setting to offer support to people who are experiencing mental illness including depression.

    Depression in the workplace can lead to:

    • Unhappy staff with low job satisfaction.
    • Loss of motivation and productivity. 
    • Withdrawal from colleagues and peers. 
    • Negative impacts on workplace relationships e.g. teamwork and interpersonal communications.
    • Absenteeism e.g. additional sick days.
    • Presenteeism e.g. mind and heart not ‘on the job’.  
    • Increased risk of workplace accident or injury.
    • Negative impacts on morale (self and others). 
    • Impacts on bottom-line (financial and economic impacts for workplaces and industries).

    How workplaces can help: 

    • Make staff well-being a priority in policies and practice. 
    • Appoint MHFA Officers (these roles champion Mental Health First Aid in the workplace and streamline supports). 
    • Create systems for mental health screening (this often works well hand-in-hand with physical health screening) and follow-up supporting such as counselling.
    • Have other wrap-around mental health initiatives in action e.g. Employee Assistance Program, well-being hubs, and accessible resources.
    • Generate healthy environments that promote positive workplace culture and value staff happiness. 
    • Promote well-being initiatives internally to build awareness and provide options for support.
    • Train staff in mental health first aid and improve their mental health literacy. Find out more and register your workplace today. 

    How you can help: 

    • Encourage your workplace to adopt well-being strategies. 
    • Suggest staff develop knowledge, skills, and confidence for positive mental health interventions. 
    • Look out for colleagues who may not be coping, or who are exhibiting signs of developing or worsening depression.
    • Offer your genuine concern and support and hold positive conversations that encourage the person to get the help they need. 
    • Use correct language about mental health, depression and help seeking. 
    • Avoid stereotypes, misinformation or myths about mental illness and depression that can cause stigma. 

    Depression in schools 

    Around 20% of Australian young people will experience depression in any one year. Adolescence is a peak time for the development of certain mental health conditions. More than 50% of adult mental health conditions begin before age 14 (AJGP, 2018). Additionally young people experience many stressors including concerns about identity and self, social pressures, bullying, exposure to drugs, alcohol and other illicit substances, family pressures, and experiences with abuse and violence, alongside their own physical, mental, and social development.

    Many young people may not be getting the care and support they need. They often benefit from informal care networks from peers and teachers, to catch them before they slip through the cracks of more formal interventions.

    How schools can help:

    • Broadly and continuously educate and engage young people on the topic of mental health.
    • Encourage empathy and concern for fellow students and promote positive peer-to-peer support.
    • Promote positive help seeking pathways both within and outside of school e.g. School Counsellors/Psychologists and awareness of options such as GPs, counselling services and helplines.
    • Create positive dialogue around mental health to reduce stigma and encourage young people to speak up and reach out for support.
    • Develop mentally healthy school environments and resources e.g. well-being hubs/spaces and initiatives that develop belonging, interpersonal connections and self-care.
    • Train teachers to have the specific mental health first aid knowledge and skills to identify and respond to students who may be struggling. Find out more 
    • Train young people to offer mental health first aid support to peers. Find out more

    Depression in the community

    There are many instances in which we will come across people in the community who are experiencing depression. At home, in our social circles, in our clubs or community interest groups, or within community-based organisations. It’s important that communities build a safety net of localised support for people that may be experiencing mental health problems.

    At a community level, there are additional factors that can contribute to increased risk of mental health problems. 

    Communities that may need additional supports include: 

    • Rural and remote communities. 
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 
    • Communities in crisis or in disaster recovery e.g. those impacted by bushfires, floods, or the recent prolonged droughts. 
    • Communities in which there have been increased incidence or rates of mental ill health or suicides. 
    • Communities impacted by economic factors such as: low socio-economic status, high unemployment, or recent economic downturn. 

    How communities can help:

    • Have community leaders who understand and champion mental health – often it takes just one person with a vision to start a positive change.
    • Have members of the community trained in Mental Health First Aid.
    • Look for opportunities to embed mental health supports into community life for improved access. Some avenues include:
      • Sporting and recreation clubs 
      • Local support groups 
      • Local businesses 
      • Community hubs 
      • Local councils 
      • Local health and allied health services
      • Town leadership groups and committees
      • Places of worship such as churches
      • Care facilities eg. residential aged care
      • Local charity groups
      • Any group interested in the well-being of its local citizens. 

    Find out more about training for community groups and enrol in MHFA training today.  

      Quick tips for supporting someone with depression:

      • Express genuine empathy and concern and be receptive to conversations about their feelings and problems. Calm, open body language and voice is important.
      • Approach the person and connect with them – start the conversation in a safe place at an appropriate time. This could mean taking a walk, having a coffee, or going someplace else that is private.
      • Listen and be supportive – using an active-listening approach that gives the person time to talk and get things off their chest (feel heard and understood).
      • Give support – don’t jump to solutions or try to minimise the problem but offer active emotional support and then help the person to consider options.
      • Encourage the person to seek help if they haven’t already or to consider new options for support if old ones are not working.
      • Consider ways to connect the person with other things that might help in addition to formal supports – things that make them feel more connected or brings joy or relief from their stresses.
      • Follow-up if appropriate and let the person know you are available to talk when they need. With this in mind, you should not become the person’s only means or support.
      • Continue to be a champion for mental health in your workplace, school, or local community – speak openly, honestly and accurately about mental health to help reduce stigma and normalise positive conversations and help seeking.

      The final takeaway

      Depression is just one of many mental health problems impacting people young and old, from all walks of life, across all areas of our communities. It is however a strikingly common illness and one which we can all help support whether in our workplaces, schools, or communities. If you recognise the signs that someone may be experiencing depression, then take steps to offer support. More information on understanding and responding to depression and other mental health problems can be found in the links below. 

      Learn More About our Training

      Understanding how to talk about mental health is an important skill. Many people feel uncomfortable and unprepared, and this can mean the conversation never starts at all. Mental Health First Aid courses teach you how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems or a crisis such as thoughts of suicide. You’ll gain the confidence to give the most effective support you can and learn how and when to recommend and access professional help.

      A conversation could change a life and learning the right skills can make the difference.

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