How Can I Help Someone With Severe Depression at Work?

The workplace can be stressful and overwhelming, even if we love our jobs. For individuals dealing with depression, it can be particularly challenging to manage their mental health while keeping up with work demands. As a colleague, you are in a unique position to offer support and help someone who may be struggling with depression.

In this blog, we will try to understand what depression is, how it affects people in the workplace, and how you can recognise the symptoms in your colleagues. We will also discuss the importance of open communication and empathy towards coworkers struggling with a rough patch. Lastly, we will provide tips on how you can encourage a workmate with depression and refer them to professional help when needed.

With these tools, you can create a supportive and understanding environment for everyone at work.

Understanding Depression in the Workplace

Recognising the impact of depression on work performance and well-being is the first step in creating a supportive environment for colleagues facing this challenge. By educating yourself about the symptoms and effects of depression, you can better understand the potential risks and challenges individuals with depression may face in the workplace. If you want to promote mental health awareness at your place of work there are positive steps you can take. Start by opening up conversations about mental health. Follow this up by listening well and empathising with those dealing with depressive symptoms.

Encouraging open communication and providing resources, such as information on clinical depression from reputable sources like the NHS, can empower individuals to seek professional help. Reading articles like this one is a good first step to understanding depression. There are some useful links to helpful resources further on in the article.

The most important thing is to be supportive and understanding. If the individual does not feel that they have a family member or trusted friend to speak to, opening up at work may be easier. If you suspect a colleague is experiencing depression, encourage them to contact their family doctor or a mental health professional.

Recognising Symptoms of Depression in Colleagues

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, can manifest in various ways, including changes in mood, energy levels, and motivation. Recognising these symptoms of depression in colleagues is crucial for creating a supportive work environment.

There are some key indicators to look out for. Pay attention to signs of persistent sadness or hopelessness in your coworkers. Keep an eye out for behavioural changes like withdrawal or lack of motivation, as well as any mention of suicidal thoughts or feelings of worthlessness.

Physical symptoms such as aches, insomnia, or changes in appetite can also indicate depression.

Additionally, be mindful of any decrease in productivity or engagement at work.

By recognising these signs, you can offer support and encourage your colleague to seek professional help. Offering support can be as simple as being a good listener and empathetic coworker. Open communication and a stigma-free workplace can help individuals feel comfortable discussing their mental health.

The Importance of Open Communication

Creating a culture of open communication at work is essential when supporting colleagues with depression. Encouraging open dialogue about mental health can help break down any stigma in your workplace. Establish a culture of trust and understanding by fostering a safe space where colleagues feel comfortable sharing their feelings and experiences. Regular check-ins and confidential conversations allow individuals to seek support without judgment.

Facilitate discussions around the mental health resources and support available. By providing information about available resources such as therapy, psychiatry, or even support groups, we can empower individuals to seek professional help if needed.

Being a good listener and showing empathy towards our colleagues is one of the most important things we can do. Sometimes, being there to listen and offer support can make a significant difference in someone's life.

Starting Conversations about Mental Health at Work

Approaching conversations about mental health at work requires empathy and sensitivity. It is important to use active listening skills to show genuine interest and concern for individuals who may be struggling. Asking open-ended questions allows them to share their experiences and feelings in a safe environment. Remember to offer support and reassurance without judgment, creating a space where they feel comfortable opening up.

Successful Mental Health Conversations

Some key reminders when approaching a conversation about mental health:

How to Offer Encouragement to a Workmate with Depression?

Supporting a workmate with depression involves being a compassionate listener and offering encouragement. You can remind them of their strengths and suggest engaging in activities outside of work to boost their mood.

Another way to help is to encourage hobbies, social activities and self-care practices while offering support during difficult times. Some places of work offer gym memberships or group sports activities to increase opportunities for physical activity and socialisation. Offering to engage in an activity, like going for a lunchtime walk, also provides an opportunity for a supportive conversation.

Offering Advice and Positivity to Combat Negativity

To help someone with severe depression, offering practical advice for managing stress and negative thoughts is essential.

  • Remind them of their accomplishments and positive contributions, which can motivate and encourage them.
  • Encourage regular exercise and physical activity, which can release endorphins and improve mood.
  • Provide resources or recommendations for self-help materials can offer individuals with depression the tools they need to cope and recover.
  • Create a supportive environment where they feel comfortable sharing their experiences.

Professional help should always be considered for those with clinical depression or at risk of suicide. Overall, offering advice and positivity can go a long way in combatting negativity and supporting someone with severe depression.

What is the Role of Empathy in Supporting Colleagues with Depression?

The role of empathy is a crucial when supporting colleagues with depression as it helps you put yourself in their shoes and aids understanding of their experiences and emotions. It's important to show understanding and validate their feelings without minimising what they're going through.

Avoid judgment or blaming language when discussing their situation, which can further exacerbate their sadness and isolation. Instead, offer support by simply being there to listen and provide emotional assistance. Remember that your role is not to solve their problems but to be patient and allow them to express their emotions at their own pace.

By demonstrating empathy and offering non-judgmental support, you can make a significant difference in the life of a colleague dealing with depression.

Active Listening

Active listening will help you support someone struggling with severe depression.

To effectively engage in active listening, you should pay full attention and maintain eye contact with your colleagues. By doing so, you are showing them that you are fully present and invested in their well-being. Additionally, verbal and non-verbal cues, such as nodding and facial expressions, can further convey your engagement and understanding.

Reflecting on what your colleagues have shared is another essential aspect of active listening. This allows you to demonstrate that you genuinely understand what they are going through and that their experiences are valid. It's necessary to resist the urge to interrupt or offer immediate solutions. Instead, focus on creating a safe space for them to express themselves without judgment or interruption.

Asking clarifying questions can help you gather more information and show genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings. This simple act of asking questions can make them feel heard and appreciated. Remember, your role is to be a good listener and a source of support rather than providing professional advice or diagnosis.

For issues regarding mental health, it's always best to encourage your colleagues to seek professional help from a psychiatrist or their family doctor.

When and How to Refer Colleagues to Professional Help

Recognising when a colleague's depression symptoms are severe or persistent is crucial in providing support. If you notice someone displaying signs such as prolonged sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or feelings of hopelessness, it may be time to suggest seeking guidance from a mental health professional.

Encourage them to consult their primary care physician or a psychiatrist who can further assess their situation and provide appropriate care. If they are open to it, offer assistance in finding mental health providers or clinics that specialise in treating depression. By guiding your colleague towards professional help, you are taking an essential step in helping them regain control of their mental well-being.

Identifying Charities and Resources for Depression Support

When it comes to helping someone with severe depression, there are a number of resources available. Researching local and national charities that provide depression support is a great place to start. These organisations can offer valuable assistance and guidance for both individuals dealing with depression and those who want to support them.

Some mental health charities available in the UK are:

  • mind offers confidential information and advice on mental health-related law.
  • Samaritans has volunteers to operate a 24-hour helpline, taking calls from those needing help.
  • YoungMinds supports young people with mental health and aims to stop young people from reaching a crisis point.
  • Mindful Employer is a scheme run by the NHS that provides employers with access to professional workplace mental health training, information, and advice.

Helplines and crisis hotlines, like Samaritans, are specifically designed to provide immediate support. Sharing information about these resources can help someone who needs help when they need it most. Online forums and websites dedicated to depression support can also be beneficial, offering information, resources, and a sense of community.

Providing tangible resources like brochures, pamphlets, or informational materials on depression support can be a valuable way to offer support to someone at work. Connecting colleagues to support groups or workshops focused on mental health can provide them with additional resources and a sense of community outside the workplace.

Remember, supporting someone with depression means being a good listener and providing them with the information and resources they need to seek professional help.

How to Create a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace Environment

Developing a workplace culture that is supportive and tolerant is essential when promoting mental well-being.

One way to promote mental health awareness is through the Mental Health Foundation's annual awareness week. Every year, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place in the UK, and is an opportunity for colleagues to join together to focus on improving mental health. The week's aim is to combat stigma and help people understand and prioritise their own and others' mental health.

Here are some suggestions to create a mental health-friendly workplace environment throughout the year:

  • encourage regular mental health check-ins,
  • educate managers on mental health issues,
  • create a dedicated resource centre,
  • implement training programmes, and
  • cultivate empathy and understanding for open discussions.

Commodious offers Health, Well-Being and Wellness Awareness courses for team members and managers. Click on the details below to find out more.


Supporting colleagues with depression is crucial for creating a positive work environment. You can make a significant difference in their lives by recognising the symptoms, starting conversations about mental health, offering advice and positivity, practising empathy, and knowing when to refer colleagues to professional help. However, fostering a mental health-friendly workplace requires collective effort. Encourage open communication, provide resources and support, and create an inclusive atmosphere where mental health is prioritised.

If you need more guidance on creating a mental health-aware workplace, try one of the courses below.

Further Reading

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Bethany Wesson

Bethany Wesson

Bethany is a freelance content writer and has produced articles for the Commodious Knowledge Bank since 2023. She has written about various health and safety topics, from asbestos to mindful business practices.

  • Mental Health
  • Mental Health Awareness
  • Business
  • Depression
  • Heath and Safety
  • Social Wellbeing