How to support a depressed co-worker

Susanna Kahr

Over 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, so it’s only natural that you’d know someone struggling with depression. The workplace can be demanding, and co-workers’ moods can go up and down, but what should you do if you suspect a co-worker has depression? Here’s how to spot the signs of a depressed co-worker and five ways to show support.

Signs you have a depressed co-worker

Everyone has a bad day now and then, but if someone’s mood seems to have worsened permanently, it could be depression. People with depression tend to withdraw from the activities they used to enjoy and isolate themselves, so if a co-worker is skipping lunch and social opportunities and hiding in the office (without a corresponding major project that would demand their time), they could be depressed.

While many depressed individuals pull back, some may complain frequently. Some gripes are normal due to workplace stress, but if someone always complains about low energy, muscle aches and pains, or the unfairness of the job, it could signal something like depression.

You’re likely to notice that a colleague has pulled back from their duties and seems to be going through the motions, whether by putting out subpar work or seeming disengaged from group tasks. An employee can miss deadlines or may experience more frequent incidents or injuries on the job.

Some depressed employees may call out sick, so increased absenteeism can be a sign of mental health issues. Others self medicate with drugs or alcohol, so you may pick up on signs of excess drinking or drug use which point to the depression.

If you suspect a co-worker is suffering from depression, don’t wait for them to come to you. Unfortunately, many people worry about being perceived differently if they admit they have depression. They keep it to themselves, which can delay their healing. Try to show, that you are a neutral contact point.

“When we are constantly told how much we are failing it kills morale. It’s hard to not be depressed when returning to the sales floor.” – anonymous employer review at Target

Ways to help a depressed co-worker

Ask how they’re doing

Even if you suspect someone is depressed, it’s best to avoid straight-up asking, as they may not have admitted the issue to themselves. Do step up and ask a co-worker how they’re doing – just don’t use the D word.

A simple ask can open up space for your colleague to vent about their problems. A depressed co-worker might not engage even if you ask how they are, so be persistent while respecting their privacy. Ask about hobbies, family, or pets – anything you think will bring joy. The point is to show that you care about them and that you’re there for them if they need to talk.

“When people are happy at work, it reflects in our work. That’s why we work together and support each other.” – anonymous employer review at Sodexo

Invite them out

Someone who has isolated themselves during a mental health crisis may not have much social interaction, and a simple post-work hangout with colleagues can remind them of what they’re missing. If you socialize with your co-workers, invite the depressed co-worker out for an after-work hangout. This can be a group hangout or one on one time. Your depressed co-worker may decline the invitation or cancel at the last minute. By extending the invitation, you remind them that you’re there.

“Google really does feel like a family, and I have the most respect for everyone that I’ve been able to work / hang out with at Google.” – anonymous employer review at Google

Mention company resources

Many companies have employee assistance programs, helping employees in crisis. While the company on its own is unlikely to step in and offer to help a colleague showing signs of depression, you can remind your coworkers of resources that exist. Mention the programs or resources offered by the company, which tend to be confidential. You can’t force someone to go, but you can plant the seed. The company may be able to help by restructuring their role, referring them to a therapist, or loosening up deadlines to relieve pressure associated with work. So the employee can focus on recovery.

Understand you can’t fix everything

You can offer ways to support a depressed co-worker, but you can’t fix their mental health for them. It may take time for someone with depression to seek help. If you’ve taken these steps to support a depressed co-worker, you’ve shown them that you care and that you are there for anything they need.

Organizations that might help

Organizations that help individuals suffering from depression include the National Institute of Mental Health, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and HelpWhenYouNeedIt.Org. If you’ve tried all these suggestions and your co-worker is still struggling, consider passing along the contact information for these organizations, where your work friend can seek long-term professional help or get access to mental health resources.


It takes time to overcome depression, but the good news is that many people do. Once a depressed co-worker realizes their circumstances, they can take part in the healing process through participation in activities they enjoy and realizing their intrinsic value as an individual and an employee.



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