How would you explain to your boss that you suffer from depression? Why would you even bother? It can be such a risk sharing with anybody, let alone your employer, that you have a mental illness. Even in this day and age the stigma against it is alive and well. Dr. Neil Korsen, Medical Director of the Mental Health Integration Program at MaineHealth, says it’s why many people say nothing. “That stigma underlies a lot of the reasons that people who have symptoms of depression and need help don’t get what they need.”

So, you suffer your depression in silence. You call in sick more frequently and often don’t perform your job as well as you could. You feel miserable and your boss thinks you’re just a slacker.

What if you could be up front with your employer and, as a result, he/she offered you understanding and meaningful support? Support that helped you manage not only your work life, but all aspects of your life? Instead of feeling threatened, you felt valued. And, your treatment was covered by your insurance.

An upcoming conference called Depression in the Workplace: Costs and Solutionsaims to help employers in Maine gain a better understanding of depression and provide them with resources to make their businesses more “mentally healthy” as Dr. Korsen puts it. “Employers recognize that better care is important and will have a lot of positive effects on the employees, on the cost of care for the employer, on the cost of other benefits, such as disability, and on the cost of absenteeism. So, employers know that good care benefits them and their employees.”

Dr. Korsen is on the planning committee for the conference, which is being put on by Maine Medical Center’s Lifeline Workplace Wellness Program. The Depression in the Workplace conference will be held 8:30 to 4:00 Tuesday, September 20 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Alan Spear and Mary Allen Lindemann at the 1994 grand opening of Coffee By Design on Congress Street

Coffee By Design Shares Its Story
Mary Allen Lindemann is one of  several presenters at the day long conference. She and her husband Alan Spear have operated Coffee By Design since 1994. When they opened their first coffee house, on Congress Street, they learned some quick lessons about mental illness in the workplace — from their customers.

For a number of reasons, they had some “challenging customers who were disruptive one day and fine the next.”

Instead of turning those customers away, Mary Allen says she reached out to some community agencies for help.

“I started asking how I could educate myself more about this. I’m not a trained social worker, but how do I make sure when I handle a situation that I’m treating people with respect and giving them a fair opportunity to prove themselves and to come in and patronize our business.”

Mary Allen will share what she and Alan and the staff learned and how it helped “transform their small company into an organization that recognized that becoming a mental health friendly employer had an impact on both their employees and their community.”

Depression in the Workplace conference topics

  • Helping Employees with Depression Function Better While Reducing Employer Productivity Loss
  • The Role of Employers in the Early Intervention of Mental Illness
  • Connecting to Community — Healthy Maine Partnerships
  • Building Resistance to Depression
  • How a Small Coffee Company Learned to Bring a Community Together (and Continues to Learn Each Day)

The conference is open to anyone, but is particularly geared toward

  • Employers of all sizes & sectors
  • Human resource professionals
  • Wellness coordinatorsHealth insurance carriers & brokers
  • Healthy Maine Partnerships
  • Occupational medicine providers
  • Worker’s compensation organization
  • EAP vendors
  • Mental health professionals
  • Public health professionals

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about might be depressed, the Mayo Clinic has an online depression symptom checker that may help you sort out your symptoms.

Symptoms of depression

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue; feeling “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment

If you don’t know where to turn for help, start with your family doctor. Most of the time, depression can be successfully treated, usually with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.