Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario


Depression Can Be Beaten

Career pro recovers to help managers recognize signs of illness in workers

Canwest News Service

Looking back now, Margaret Tebbutt can see the signs of the depression that would ensnare her.

She was just past 50 and at the height of a successful career, working as an executive in business and economic development with a public sector employer.

She loved her management job, but instead of the usual anticipation each day, she found herself sitting in the parking lot in the mornings crying before heading to work.

"I saw myself as being able to handle problems. I thought I should be able to do this for myself," Tebbutt says.

"I definitely had a lack of insight - I didn't look for explanations. I didn't see the symptoms of depression."

By the time Tebbutt sought help, she was suffering with major depression and anxiety.

It took three years and the assistance of professionals and medication as well as a medical leave of absence to recover but Tebbutt is back at work in a new job where she uses her business background and personal experience to help managers recognize the signs of mental illness in employees.

"I'm proof that it's possible for any of us to get ill and recover and continue being productive," says Tebbutt, now a trainer and manager for Mental Health Works, an initiative of the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The group provides workshops and resources to employers so they can recognize the signs of mental illness and help workers get assistance. For instance, when an employee develops problems with concentration or memory, or seems more anxious than usual, employers learn how to explore the situation rather than jump to conclusions about the cause.

"We're trying to build skills in managers so they can do their job better," says Tebbutt, 59.

"We don't want managers to be therapists - it's not their job and it's not appropriate.

"We know how to accommodate someone using a wheelchair, but we don't understand depression."

Merv Gilbert, a psychologist and co-author of a new workbook for employees suffering from low mood or depression, says employers recognize mental illness as a health problem but don't see it as a workplace issue.

"They don't have the tools or resources to deal with mental illness as a disability," Gilbert says.

"They don't think they're the ones to deal with it, or if they ignore it, it will go away.

The cost of depression to employers is difficult to estimate, although one recent study suggests mental illness costs Canadian employers about $30 billion a year.

Workers suffering from mood problems are absent more often from the job, and if they're at their desks, they aren't fully productive.

There are also costs associated with replacing workers who need time off, increased use of benefits packages and recruitment.

After researching depression and its effect on work function, Gilbert and two colleagues from Simon Fraser University's Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction developed the workbook to give employees a guide to help themselves.

"We want to help people maintain and regain their functioning at work," Gilbert says.

"This is not a treatment program in itself but it may be the only thing some people access." 08/03/08

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