Blue Mondayitis and the sad truth about depressive illness

Blue Monday this year falls on 18 January.  The third Monday in January was identified by university tutor Cliff Arnall as the most miserable day of the year.  Whilst other academics are sceptical of Arnall’s research, the day nonetheless has one of the highest rates of absenteeism of the year.  Coincidence?  Not so, says absence management expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence.

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“Our customers always report a spike in sickness absence on this day – I jokingly told my colleagues that I’d be keeping an eye out for Blue Monday-itis!” he said.

On days where absence is higher than the norm, there is the perception that everyone is just taking sickies.  However, depression and stress are very real illnesses, and ‘Blue Monday’ could simply be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It’s vital to remember that employees are not always honest in their reasons for taking sick leave, and Adrian says that employers should look at a pattern of sickies and consider whether depression may be a factor.  Indeed, new research from the UK’s largest job site CV-Library, revealed that  63.5% of sufferers wouldn’t give their depression as the reason for calling in sick and would use a different excuse.

The researchers spoke to over 1,100 workers to explore mental health in the workplace, and the findings were concerning:

  • 74.3% of workers suffering with depression said they could not speak to a manager about their issues, and 70% feel unsupported by their employer.
  • 89.2% of sufferers believed that disclosing depression in an interview would hinder their chances of getting the job.  
  • 50.8% of workers who don’t have depression believe that depression lessens a worker’s abilities
  • 73.1% feel there is a negative stigma around depression in the workplace
  • Over one third (39.8%) of non-sufferers believe their colleagues with depression are treated differently i.e. they are excluded
  • Over two thirds (68.5%) of non -sufferers would anticipate a change in their colleagues attitude towards them, should they ever be diagnosed with depression

Adrian says that low morale is common in January anyway, and has released his recommendations for how HR can improve the general malaise that comes after a season of partying, which is bound to make depression worse.  He feels that more specific steps can be taken by HR to directly support sufferers of stress and depression:

“There is no excuse for a stigma towards a debilitating illness at work – employers can really help by taking it seriously.  Efficient sickness absence analysis can identify sufferers of depression at work, even if they aren’t honest at first.  Studying a trend or pattern of sickies can help you ask the right questions during a sensitive return to work interview.  Once you have identified the problem, you can offer sufferers early support and intervention, which is not only a nicer experience for the individual, but reduces the risk of them taking long term sickness absence.”

Indeed, only 8% of sufferers in the research felt that time off work would help their condition.  They cited flexible working, reduced workloads, more breaks and access to counselling as strategies which would be helpful.   However, the overwhelming finding of the research was that attitudes towards mental illness at work need to change.

Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, said: “Attitudes aren’t changing as quickly as they should be. What’s more disheartening is the negative stigma attached to depression. This, combined with the prejudices that workers are facing, prevent employees from being honest with their managers. Those with depression often feel marginalised and judged, and it’s worrying that this attitude is still prevalent in the workplace.”

Adrian agreed: “Whether or not ‘Blue Monday’ exists as anything other than a great 80s track by New Order remains open to debate, however these statistics on depression at work cannot be argued with. It’s time that sufferers are given the workplace support they deserve, and offered a real alternative to taking long term sickness absence which often makes the problem and the stigma worse.”

Author: Editorial Team

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