What employers need to know about staff depression

One in 4 Kenyans who seek medical attention has a mental health condition ranging from minor to more serious ones. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

QUESTION: An employee has depression. What do I need to know as her boss?


The fact that you know that you can do something about a staff member who has a depressive illness is an excellent sign that stigma against mental health in Kenya is reducing.

Years ago, society had not accepted that depression is common and treatable. The question employers faced when dealing with a depressed employee was, 'what is the most efficient way of getting rid of him?

I must therefore thank you for demonstrating the fact that your organisation is not only caring but also modern and has embraced modern attitudes.

Several questions came to mind when I saw your question. How did you find out that this member of staff has depression?

In Kenya, an increasing number of young people have shed the cloak of stigma, and it might be that the employee came up to you and simply stated that he/she had been diagnosed with depression by their doctor.

The staff member might have done so as a matter of course and they do not expect you to do anything beyond the fact of disclosure of what they might consider being a material fact.

In such a scenario, all you should do is encourage the person to continue with follow-up with the doctor and to keep you informed in the same way should the need for more action be deemed appropriate. You could also tell them that you are available for support at any time.

In another scenario, it might be that you have learned of the diagnosis from a doctor or the insurance company who is asking you to accommodate the needs of the employee, during the next six weeks as he/she continues to receive treatment.

In such an event, you would need to confirm with the member of staff that indeed assistance is required and that you may consult with the medical provider on the best way of accommodating the person.

You might also be able to reassure the person that the request made is in keeping with company policy and that indeed he has nothing to fear.

As must be clear to you by now, there are many ways in which you become aware of the fact that a staff member has a depressive illness, and each case demands a different set of skills from you.

All that said, however, and as we have said before, mental health literacy is increasing rapidly among Kenyans, and that can only be a good thing.

The mental Health Act was, for example, amended recently and reaffirmed in law, the fact that mental health conditions must be treated at par with other medical conditions when it comes to the provision of medical insurance.

This is important in your case because some employees are afraid of telling their employers that they have been diagnosed with depression because of the fear that the condition is not covered by health insurance. Any company that offers discriminatory cover is in breach of the law.

Dr Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant who has authored several scientific papers and books

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