Updated 06 August 2013

Depression a career barrier for women

Depression has been named as a barrier to success in the workplace for women in South Africa, according to a recent survey.


Depression has been named as one of the top three barriers to success in the workplace according to a recent survey among 2800 working women across South Africa.

The online survey, which was conducted by one of SA’s leading providers of central nervous system (CNS) pharmaceuticals, Pharma Dynamics, found that depression may be the culprit behind absenteeism and workplace blunders among women who have experienced its symptoms.

Respondents rated depression, alongside child-care responsibilities and bureaucratic structures, as a primary barrier to career success, and 66% of women said it hampered their overall job performance.

Depression interfered with work in various ways. Almost 65% of women reported that depression caused them to be quiet and reserved, and 41% said they were more prone to making job-related mistakes due to lack of concentration and sleep.


Mariska Fouche, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says it’s not just perfectionists and workaholics who tip over the edge.

Depression is an issue that is becoming more evident in SA following widespread retrenchments that have left the remaining staff to cope with impossible workloads, too afraid to object for fear they’ll be next in the firing line.

"With more women working overtime and on top of that still having to deal with child-care responsibilities at home, it is no surprise that many are bordering on the brink when it comes to their physical and mental health. Putting in more than an eight-hour day, five days a week, makes you twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety."

"Women are also more prone to burn-out and depression because they are more likely than men to be people-pleasers who often ignore their own needs," says Fouche.

Nearly 40% of women surveyed admitted to suffering from depression – 33% felt unable to face work, 29% generally avoided contact with other colleagues and almost a quarter of the sample (22%) said they took more sick leave as a result of symptoms related to depression.

One in ten women reported having resigned or lost a job mainly due to symptoms of depression.

“It’s important,” says Fouche, “to note depression is not merely feeling sad because you’ve had a bad day at work.”

“Depression is prolonged and severe despondency and dejection, usually accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. It is a mental condition that manifests itself typically in a lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration and an interest in life.”

Of the 1057 women diagnosed with depression, only 464 are currently being treated, of which 65% are on medication and 35% are undergoing psychotherapy.

Not seeking treatment

Reasons given for not seeking treatment included work-related time constraints (31%), medical aid not covering treatment costs (24%), fear of what people might think due to the stigma associated with depression because it is often seen as a sign of weakness (23%), not knowing where to go to for help (16%) and 6% felt they might lose their jobs as a result.

“Besides the personal struggle, women living with depression also have to deal with other people’s perceptions of depression – many of which aren’t true. Even though the stigma associated with the condition is decreasing, it continues to be a major factor in preventing women from seeking help.

"What you choose to share in a workplace setting, however, is controversial when it comes to depression. If you tell your colleagues that you suffer from depression, you could experience a combination of social stigma and discrimination or get passed over for a promotion, but hiding signs of depression can be stressful too," she warns.

Wait for an appropriate time to share your experience of depression, such as lunchtime or at an office social when the topic of discussion is generally not focused on work.

Don’t judge yourself – this only perpetuates a negative social stigma.

Help friends, family and colleagues gain a greater understanding of depression. Reinforce that it is normal behaviour and how they can help.

Try to always exhibit control and responsibility, especially when sharing your experience with depression with colleagues or your boss.

Take control by seeking the right help.

Surround yourself with positive people who understand what you are going through and are supportive.

Managing depression

“One of the best ways to manage depression is to stay positive and vigilant about your condition. Recognise different patterns in your mood, avoid setting difficult goals, participate in activities that make you feel better and don’t expect to just snap out of it. It is important to connect with people who understand depression and what the recovery process involves.”

These findings were released as part of Pharma Dynamics’ ongoing public education and advocacy efforts for mental wellness in SA.

Those suffering from depression or anxiety can contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained SADAG counsellors who are on call from 08h00 to 20h00, seven days a week. 



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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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