Depression and Stress warning to Surrey workers

A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Surrey County Council had 873 employees absent in the period 01 January 2010 to 31 December 2010 at some time during the year due to stress or depression.

Latest recorded figures from Surrey Police (01January 2009 - 31 December 2010) revealed that 43 police officers were signed off for stress or depression. Surrey Fire and Rescue (01 April 2010 - 31 Mar 2011) lost 796 full-time, uniformed days to sickness that was stress-related.

Dr Ian Drever, consultant psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Woking said: "Even one employee affected by depression or stress can have a major impact on a small company so it is easy to imagine the effect on a huge organisation like a council. It can be very costly from increased sick pay through to arranging cover for absent staff.

The illness can result in a drop in productivity, a diminution in efficiency and can result in frequent or long-term sick leave and may be responsible for accidents and high staff turnover.  

Depression is a medical disorder just like high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma. It's an abnormal mood associated with specific and reversible chemical changes in the brain. Depression is not a sign of weakness, nor is it a state you can just snap out of.

Nobody is immune to depression and it can happen at any age. In fact, between 10 and 20 per cent of individuals will develop depression at some point in their life, although not all seek depression treatment.  

For many people, depression is triggered by a stressful event, alcohol or drug use, problems stemming from adolescent addictions or an unresolved long-term difficulty. However, in some people that undergo depression treatment, there is no obvious trigger.

Employers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression; the causes and the possible interventions. They must be sure a sufferer receives the help he or she needs and what to expect in terms of support, once they return to work.  

If you are suffering from stress at work you should not suffer in silence but seek help at an early stage. Concerns should be raised with your manager or HR department.

There are cases where it becomes advisable to seek medical help via your GP who can refer you to experts such as the Priory."

* Working days lost is the total number of recorded working days / shifts lost due to sickness absence per employee.

According to the HSE, stress is the second biggest occupational health issue in the UK after back problems.