Understanding the displacement of Black Americans in the workplace can be a serious feat. From oppression and discrimination to exclusion and solitary, finding your “place” within the general population’s social and corporate constructs as a Black American may not come easily to most.
Do you follow along in banter with your white coworkers about current politics in America? Do you not point out how you’re the only Black person in the entire company? These questions tend to pop into the minds of almost every Black person in the workplace and may even lead to a form of depression.
However, from secretaries to CEOs, workers, in general, face an epidemic of depression no matter the race. At any given time, about 9.5 percent of adults suffer from a depressive illness, a fact that explains a lot of empty desks and unpunched time cards.
Every year, depression causes 200 million lost days of work, and it is the leading cause of disability in the United States for 15 to 44-year-olds. In a way, everyone pays the bill. In fact, workplace depression drains more than $50 billion from the economy each year, mostly because of absenteeism and lower productivity, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Depression used to be a hidden disease, but more and more companies have a vested interest in bringing it out in the open. By watching for signs of depression and offering support, employers can improve morale and productivity, not to mention their bottom line. Unfortunately, mental health is still a taboo subject in many workplaces. Until more employers and employees understand the disease, too many people will continue to work under a cloud.
Working Toward The Blues
The source of depression often lies far beyond the office. Conflicts at home, the loss of a loved one, or a fight with a friend can sink the mood of the happiest employee. But for many people, emotional distress is truly an occupational hazard. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), one out of four Americans says their job is the most stressful part of their lives. It isn’t always just run-of-the-mill, teeth-gnashing, pencil-breaking stress, either. Many studies link job strain to a wide range of illnesses, including heart disease, back pain, ulcers, and, yes, depression.
Often, the stress isn’t hard to explain. Many workers put in long hours for little pay. And if they’re lucky enough to have a good job, they may worry about losing it. Speeded-up production lines and accelerated marketing schedules is now the norm at most manufacturing operations, computerized monitoring is widespread, and many people who work in sales face increasing scrutiny in terms of their customer service.
In many cases, the real issue is control, says Ernie Randolfi, Ph.D., a Montana-based business consultant and expert on stress management. People who enjoy some autonomy at their job have strong protection against stress and depression, while those who feel powerless can be quickly wiped out, he says.
Spotting The Signs
Reading the mood of a co-worker can be tricky, even if he or she is just a cubicle away. But depressed workers often wave several red flags, including a major change in behavior, says Margaret Novotny, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist with a practice in Silicon Valley.
A talkative person may suddenly become silent and moody, and someone who’s usually found at his workstation may suddenly be away in the hallway or outside. Depression, however, doesn’t always mean the person is absent or not working up to par. “In some cases, an employee may begin overworking to avoid returning to a difficult home situation,” Novotny says.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), other signs of on-the-job depression include