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What’s the difference between employee stress and depression?


In the run up to Mental Health Awareness Week, we receive a spike in enquiries at Cognacity Towers.  The enquiries predominantly come from HR and Learning & Development teams asking about what they can do to ignite conversations internally and build awareness around mental wellbeing for their staff.  One key question that comes up regularly in the early stages of these discussions is, what is the difference between employee stress and depression?

Stress or depression



Employee stress or depression?

Both stress and depression are two very prevalent psychological conditions in the UK. Studies show that long-term stress affects up to 44% of adults in the UK, whilst depression affects roughly 10%. Stress and depression are two related but different psychological conditions and can have serious negative consequences on people’s lives if left untreated.

Stress is the reaction when someone feels that they are under too much emotional or mental pressure and that they can no longer cope. Many demands throughout life can lead to stress, such as work, school or relationship problems. Everyone experiences some level of stress in their lifetime, but high-levels of continual stress can lead to more serious conditions.

Depression is an enduring mood disorder, and is in fact the most common mood disorder. All people experience states of unhappiness, but depression is a long-term state of deep unhappiness that can last for weeks, months or even longer. Depression is a serious clinical condition which can prevent employees from carrying on with their everyday lives.

How do the symptoms differ and what are the warning signs?

There are a number of symptoms and warning signs that can indicate if an employee is suffering from stress. Some outward signals include trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating or a loss of appetite. Internally, people suffering from stress may experience worrying thoughts, irritability or low-self esteem. There are also several physical symptoms such as dizziness, muscle pain or frequent headaches.

Warning signs for depression are similar and include a loss of appetite or sex drive, physical aches and pains and difficulty sleeping. One hallmark warning sign for depression is when an individual loses interest in activities that they used to take joy from, for example hobbies or socialising. Feelings that life may no longer be worth living are also characteristic of depression.

What treatments are available and how do they differ?

There are a variety of treatments available to employees suffering from stress or depression. The most common forms include:

  • A number of self-help techniques than can be very effective in alleviating feelings of stress, such as recognising your own self-triggers, improving your time-management skills, and refraining from unhealthy habits like drinking or smoking.
  • Relaxation techniques, by practicing meditation, mindfulness or yoga have also been shown to help people with stress. Getting regular exercise can also be extremely effective in reducing the symptoms of both stress and depression. Self-help groups are also a viable option for those suffering from depression, as talking through ones feelings can help relieve some of the burdens of the disorder.
  • If self-help techniques do not appear to be helping, therapeutic approaches can be effective in the treatment of stress and depression. Counselling, psychotherapy and other forms of talking therapy can be useful in reducing symptoms in both conditions.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is extremely popular in the treatment of both. CBT involves evaluating how an individual perceives difficult situations and understanding how one’s thoughts impact their emotions and behaviours. The individual and therapist then work together to alter these negative thought patterns and behaviours, in order to improve one’s negative feelings and experiences. CBT is particularly useful for individuals to recognise their own trigger points, and identify the positive actions one can take to cope with these.
  • For more severe forms of depression, antidepressants can also be an effective treatment. These medications aim to restore an imbalance of chemicals in the brain which are responsible for many of the observable symptoms. Research finds that combination approaches, where antidepressants are taken along with undergoing a type of therapy, can be particularly effective and can work better than any stand-alone treatment. Medication is typically not prescribed to those suffering from stress, unless the individual has also been diagnosed with another condition, such as anxiety or depression. In such cases, medications like antidepressants can be effective in treating these conditions and stress levels may be alleviated as a result.

At Cognacity, we offer  Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)-based workshops with evidence-based research that can improve levels of affective work-related rumination, chronic fatigue, and sleep quality.  Contact the Cognacity Team and book your session to help beat employee stress and depression.

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