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Germanwings Flight 4U9525 highlights issue of depression at work

04/02/2015 04:32 EDT | Updated 06/02/2015 05:59 EDT
In the aftermath of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash, questions are being raised about whether Andreas Lubitz — the co-pilot believed to have brought the plane down intentionally — was depressed.

According to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman, that could further stigmatise workers struggling with mental illness, but it's also an opportunity to cast aside some of the stigma associated with depression.

"I think in the attempts to explain something, people are grabbing at something to hang this on," Newman told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

"But, I've also seen talking about depression helps people a lot and that's one part of the fallout of this — I think we're going to be talking more about it."

Here are three ways Newman said workers can fight stigma around depression and other mental illness in the workplace.

1. Talk about it

Newman said she worked with one woman who suffered from depression and made the decision to talk to her co-workers about it.

"Soon staff were coming to her with stories of their own and of their own family's struggle with depression and she was relieved by these disclosures rather than feeling burdened," she said.

Newman said when people understand what is wrong, they're more likely to be able to help a struggling colleague or to seek help for themselves.

2. Show interest in how a co-worker is doing

"You know how you walk by in the hall and go, 'Hey how are you?' and someone responds, 'Great,'" said Newman.

"If you have a feeling that answer is more of a pat answer and you're close enough to that person, you can say, 'Hey, I'm noticing a difference to how you used to be to how you are now. What's going on?'"

She said it can take time to build enough trust with a co-worker before wading into that kind of conversation, but consistently showing you care can go a long way towards making them feel more at ease.

3. Know that help is available

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of a disability, which includes mental illnesses like depression.

Employees can seek professional help through their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), their family doctor or through extended benefits.

If a co-worker does express suicidal thoughts, Newman said it's important not to take that on alone and to go to human resources.

To hear the full interview with Jennifer Newman, listen to the audio labelled: Jennifer Newman on depression.

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