Every year, depression costs U.S. employers billions – $100 billion to be exact, according to a survey from Employers Health Coalition, Inc. That’s a large chunk of change, and employers will keep losing it until they start to do something about depression in the workplace.
In general, depression is a serious societal problem, and it’s one we don’t often acknowledge. Of the 40 million people who have depression in the U.S., only a third receive the proper treatment for the disease. It should come as no surprise, then, that so many employers feel the effects of employee depression.
How Depression Impacts the Workplace
Depression affects people all over the world in just about every industry, but it does affect some places more than others. According to a recent study published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epistemology, people in the business of transit (like bus drivers and truckers) are the hardest-hit by depression, with 16 percent of them suffering symptoms. The next few industries hit hardest by depression are personal services (14 percent), social work (14 percent), and publishing (13 percent), all desk-oriented jobs. No matter where you’re working, depression is a serious issue.
So, how does depression affect business? In just about every way you can imagine. One in 10 people take time off due to depression; all told, depression leads to more sick days than all other kinds of chronic health issues.
Depression leads to stress, which affects employee engagement. With 70 percent of workforce already disengaged, depression further compounds the issue. Depression can cause people to see everything in a negative light, and this can further hamper their ability to work. For example, 84 percent employees’ opinions about where they work are influenced by their immediate manager. If people look poorly at their boss because depression causes them to see everything in a negative light, that’s going to affect the way they work.
What Employers Can Do
Perhaps the most difficult thing about helping someone with depression is that it’s not the easiest disease to treat. Not everyone wants to talk about the problems they’re facing, and one must remain aware of others’ personal boundaries. Stephanie Melcrum, a counselor who has worked with depressed workers in the past, offers a few suggestions on working through the issues with employees:
“My general recommendation would probably be to have a conversation about the work performance issues only, and then ask a question like ‘Are there any contributing factors that are getting in your way of making changes? Would a referral to the EAP [Employee Assistance Program] for support be helpful?’”
A few other tips to keep in mind: you can’t force someone to take help, but you can make sure that workers know all of the health benefits available to them. You can also help in other ways, like encouraging all of your employees to exercise more often. Exercising has been known to help with depression and overall mood, and since employees in a positive state of mind are 31 percent more productive and about three times more creative, moving around a bit more could benefit all of your employees, whether or not they suffer from depression.
“Employers, managers, and coworkers should also keep an eye out for changes in temperament. For example, maybe an employee was well known for greeting you and other coworkers each morning or making friendly conversation during work breaks, but now goes straight to his desk or spends his breaks alone or surfing the Internet. These could be signs that depression has taken hold and certainly indicate it might be time to check in with them and see how they’re doing.” — Graeme Cowan (@DepressionCure)
Depression does not have a quick fix. Victims can suffer for years at a time, and the disease can return multiple times in the course of a person’s life. While it’s a difficult problem to fix, you should always make sure your organization is taking steps to combat depression, and you should let your workers know that you’re there to help.