The real cost of depression at work

The real cost of depression at work

More than one in 10 adults in the US have missed work when feeling depressed

 

Douglas Jacobs

Depression affects 9.5 per cent of the adult population in the United States and translates to 200 million lost workdays each year. That’s four million lost days a week.

Depression affects 9.5 per cent of the adult population in the United States and translates to 200 million lost workdays each year. That’s four million lost days a week.

 

The workforce in the United States is in crisis as a silent epidemic eats away at the economy through lost productivity and underperformance. More importantly, if this health crisis is left unchecked, it will cost lives. It’s not Aids, cancer or diabetes. It’s clinical depression.

Among adults who have been employed in the last 12 months, more than one in 10 have missed work days because they were too anxious (14 per cent) or too depressed (16 per cent) to go to work, according to a September 2015 Harris Poll for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Depression affects 9.5 per cent of the adult population in the United States and translates to 200 million lost workdays each year. That’s four million lost days a week.

The economic hit to employers and the US economy is staggering. Each year, it’s estimated that depression costs companies between $17 billion (€15 billion) and $44 billion. The real toll, however, is much higher and more distressing. People are suffering and some will die. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

Treatment What makes this especially unsettling is that depression, once diagnosed, is treatable. Similar to physical illnesses, the earlier treatment can begin, the more effective it is.

According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 80 per cent of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms generally within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments.

Employers can look out for their employees’ short- and long-term mental health by encouraging participation in free and anonymous online screenings.

By encouraging employees to take free, anonymous screenings, managers will also be sending an important signal that there’s no stigma to depression.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from firing people with mental health conditions, a bias in the workplace remains. As a society, America shuns mental health issues as affecting only an unfortunate few.

That’s far from the case – depression alone affects 350 million people globally each year, according to the World Health Organisation. But as a result of the stigma, people with depression and other ailments have a legitimate fear of repercussions. If employers encourage mental health screenings, that could change.

Through their human resources department or employee assistance programs, employers can educate employees about mental health by providing information and screenings through established communications channels and integrating mental health programming into current wellness programs. Reinforcing the anonymous nature of the screening helps increase participation.

Employers cannot identify any individual that has taken a screening and all reporting is provided in aggregate. Ideally, employers want the screenings to engage employees to become active participants in their well-being and link them back to company resources.

Tomorrow, 548,000 Americans will call in sick or be impaired on the job because of depression. It doesn’t have to be this way. – (Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015) Dr Douglas Jacobs, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, is founder and medical director of Screening of Mental Health

 

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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