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Williams’ death sparks open dialogue on depression

Williams at the start of his career in a publicity photo with Pam Dawber for the television show
Williams at the start of his career in a publicity photo with Pam Dawber for the television show "Mork and Mindy."

If you were like me, you were shocked Monday when you got home from work and turned on the television.

News of the suspected suicide death of beloved comic Robin Williams took everyone by surprise.

Yes, he had fought drugs and alcohol much of his life and had been forthright in interviews about his battles with depression, but how could a man with such success and fame, someone beloved by so many, end his life?

The simple answer is depression doesn’t discriminate based on how famous you are, how rich you are, how good you are at your job or how well-liked you are.

It’s a disease that is insidious enough that it makes its sufferers think its symptoms are a result of their own weakness or worthlessness rather than the disease itself.

If any good has come out of Williams’ tragic death is that it is getting people talking about the often ignored topic of depression and suicide.

Social media have been lit up with people talking of their own bouts with depression and reaching out to others who may feel they have no one to talk to.

So why is this the subject of a blog on a business website? Because one of the first places depression may manifest itself is in the workplace.

If you’re having a hard enough time getting out of bed in the morning, how do you manage to be productive in the workplace?

According to a study by the Rand Corp., which can be found HERE, more than 17 million adults suffer from depression.

People who are depressed may isolate themselves from others, limiting their social network and those who may be able or willing to reach out to them, making coworkers or employers often the first to notice a problem.

There are many ways to spot an employee who may be suffering from depression.

Forbes Magazine has a good article available HERE that explains how such behavior as increased absences, lateness, fatigue on the job and changes in social behavior can indicate that an employee or coworker is suffering from depression and may need help.

Williams’ death illustrates clearly how dangerous depression can be, but aside from the compassion of reaching out to an employee or coworker suffering from depression, getting that person help is in the best interest of the company as well.

The Rand Group study showed that depression accounts for nearly $12 billion in lost work days in the nation each year, as well as an estimated $11 billion in other costs associated with decreased productivity.

It’s a problem an employer can’t afford to ignore.

But just how do you reach out? It isn’t easy to talk to someone about depression. It’s a sensitive topic and one that a person suffering from depression might not be eager to talk to their boss about.

Many companies employ the help of what is known as an Employee Assistance Program.

For a fee, an EAP will handle any personal crises that may be affecting employees’ personal or professional life.

Preferred EAP, a program run by the Lehigh Valley Health Network, describes how it operates HERE.

You don’t have to solve a coworker’s problems. You don’t have to be an expert on depression, but you can encourage a person you suspect of being depressed to get help.

You may be saving a life.

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