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Workplace depression results in 200 million lost workdays in U.S. annually


Depression at work isn’t always merely a case of the blues or deadline burnout. Unlike many physical illnesses such as the flu or measles, depression can be easily misunderstood by both workers and employers, according to Dr. Bradford M. Smith.

Smith is a licensed psychologist and director of Belhaven University’s Institute for International Care and Counsel. He says depression includes emotional pain but is much more than that.

“In addition to sadness or no longer finding any activity pleasurable, depression often includes lack of energy and concentration, sleep and eating problems, pessimism and sometimes irritability,” Smith said. “Depression is common and debilitating, and according to the World Health Organization, it’s the number one cause of disability worldwide.

“There is also a higher risk of suicide.”

Diagnosed with depression three years ago, Shannon (who wished not to use his real name), 43, works as a paralegal on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  No one at his large law firm knows about the diagnosis, and that’s the way Shannon wants it. Losing his job is not an option, said the single father.

“It’s hard when you can’t function as well as you’re used to,” said Shannon. “I was in full denial about what was happening to me.  It’s a Catch-22 – my employer doesn’t want to hear that I can’t come in to work because I’m depressed. But sometimes I just don’t feel like coming in but I have to. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s real.”

Depression results in 200 million lost workdays in the U.S. annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Consequently, employers lose an estimated $52 billion annually in productivity and insurance payments. A major cause of disability, absenteeism and productivity loss among working age adults, depression affects nearly one in five adults at some point in their life.

Employers should care about depression on the job, said Smith. Employee assistance programs (EAP) around the nation report that depression is one of the top three reasons employees seek help.

“It’s very hard for a person to be reliable, highly productive employee when they’re depressed,” he said. “That has economic consequences for employers.  One in five employees will have a mood disorder some time in their life. In about 80 percent of cases, depression can be treated successfully.”

Shannon’s depression is often triggered by stressful workplace situations and a work-life imbalance. He says depression awareness and a support system in the workplace would go a long way in helping those with depressive illnesses cope on the job.

“There is a stigma associated with depression and those of us diagnosed are afraid mental illness would be cause for termination,” said Shannon. “You are kind of left to your own devices to seek treatment and get help. Medical insurance hardly covers clinical psychology visits.”

Belhaven’s Institute for International Care and Counsel offers a new eight hour certificate-based program called Mental Health First-Aid to employers and employees, as well as community and faith-based groups.

Education is the key in reducing the depression stigma in the workplace, Smith said. Prevention is also important, as many of the effects of depression can be reduced or avoided with a balanced lifestyle.

“Just like medical First-Aid teaches us how to respond to physical problems, the course is an effective tool to encourage self-help and other support strategies ,” he said. “It helps reduce stigma through education but also helps people feel knowledgeable and confident supporting and helping others who are struggling.”

So, how does one cope with depression at work? According to Smith, three factors are most critical in the battle against depressive illnesses:

» Seek treatment immediately.

» Support is essential. Family members, friends and one’s faith community can make a huge difference as sources of hope and support.

» Accept depression as an illness – give yourself permission to not be on top of your game for a period of time.

“EAPs are a helpful resource,” Smith said. “Lack of understanding and fear fuel mental health stigma.”


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About Nash Nunnery

One comment

  1. —-There is a stigma associated with depression

    Who taught you that did you no good, Repeating it does no one else good.

    Overcome it in you that you not pass it on to others.

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