Special assistance Featured

5:50am EDT June 30, 2003
One of your key employees has been missing a lot of work, and when he is present, he is moody and irritable, not his usual positive self. This has been going on for more than three weeks.

Does he have emotional problems? How do you approach him about it?

Christopher Kovell, chief clinical officer of the Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Board (ADAMH) of Franklin County, says you must be very careful when discussing the issue with the employee.

"The first thing you should do is discuss the matter with a human resource or legal professional," he says. "There are particular words and phrases, such as 'mental illness' and 'depressed,' that you cannot say to an employee because of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

That doesn't mean, however, that you can't address the topic.

"Keep the focus of the conversation on job performance," Kovell says.

He recommends telling the employee there are noticeable differences in his or her job performance and that you are concerned. If your company has an employee assistance program, ask the employee if he or she is willing to talk with that program's representative, or a nurse if you have one on site.

If you have neither an employee assistance program or a nurse, then encourage the employee to call a physician or other community resources or programs.

"It's OK to tell the employee you notice specific behaviors, that she is sad or sleepy or irritable," Kovell says. "What you can't say is that you feel she has a mental illness or is depressed. Focus on her job performance and let her know that you care and are concerned."

Depression is increasingly prevalent in the United States. According to Kovell, by 2020 it will rank second only to heart disease as the leading cause of disability in Americans. It now costs businesses $12 billion annually in lost time and productivity.

"In most cases, depression can be treated with medication, counseling or a combination of the two," says Kovell.

So don't be afraid to address the possibility with your employee, for your company's sake as well as the employee's. How to reach: ADAMH of Franklin County, (614) 222-3751 or www.adamh.co.franklin.oh.us