Depression in the Workplace - Better Care Improves Worker's Mental Health and Bottom Line

Many of us have known someone close - a friend, family member or co-worker -
who has suffered the debilitating affects of depression. They withdraw from us
and lose interest in their regular activities, have little or no energy, seem
sad, irritable or hostile and/or full of despair. And there is no amount of
"cheering up", exercise or vacation that can chase the depression away.

That's because depression is a serious medical illness. It's more than just a
feeling of being sad or "blue" for a few days. These depressed moods and
feelings persist for weeks, deepening and eventually interfering with everyday

People with depression will try hardest to hide their illness at work. Fear of
hurting their future opportunities, being reprimanded, fired or disgraced for
feeling or acting "down", and feelings of shame can prevent someone from
seeking help. They may also not realize that they have a legitimate and
treatable illness.

Some people abuse alcohol and/or drugs to cope with their depression. A person
can become so withdrawn they can't get out of bed to face the day. Their
unexplained, frequent "sick days" can make family and co-workers resentful, and
in some workplaces, result in dismissal. Higher absenteeism and turnover and
lost productivity can affect the organization's bottom line and performance.

If there are negative attitudes in the workplace about mental illness and
depression, employees may suffer in silence and not seek help. If depression is
not treated, it can last for months or years and even result in death.

What to look for

Depression may begin gradually or suddenly. A person who is clinically
depressed will seem more withdrawn and isolated than usual. Although not
everyone experiences this illness in the exact same way, there are common

  • Sadness

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities they used to enjoy

  • Change in weight

  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping

  • Energy loss, chronic fatigue

  • Slowness of speech

  • Alcohol/drug abuse

  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and or despair

In the workplace, a person with depression may exhibit any of the following

  • Difficulty in making decisions

  • Decreased productivity

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Drop in dependability

  • Increase in errors in work

  • Prone to accidents

  • Frequent lateness, increased absenteeism

  • Lack of enthusiasm for work

Someone who has been experiencing several of these signs for more than a few
weeks should seek help.

Getting help

If you think a co-worker may be experiencing depression, you should continue to
show them respect. You can help make the person feel valued in the workplace
and offer encouragement and positive words every day.

Discreetly encourage your co-worker to speak to their doctor, an on-site
occupational health nurse, or your employee assistance professional. These
people can direct them toward appropriate treatment such as counseling,
self-help groups, family and peer support, or provide referrals to specialists
who may recommend medication or psychotherapy. These treatments are highly
successful, but they will only work if the depressed person takes the first
step to seek help and get a professional diagnosis.

Enhanced care for depression helps improve worker health and productivity
Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who
are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.

Employees seeking treatment for depression who participated in a program that
included telephone outreach had fewer symptoms, worked more hours and had
greater job retention than participants receiving usual care, according to a
study in the September 26 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA). The study, "Enhanced Depression Treatment and Work Outcomes," finds
that a telephone outreach and care management program that screened depressed
workers and encouraged them to enter outpatient treatment and directed them to
psychotherapy and/or medication for their illness led to improved productivity,
greater staff retention and happier staff members.

The results suggest that the benefits of providing enhanced care for workers
who are depressed go beyond improved health to workers and extend to improved
workplace outcomes. The financial value to employers in terms of recovered
hiring, training, and salary costs shows that many employers gain a positive
return on investment from outreach and enhanced treatment of workers suffering
with depression.

Bottom line - everyone benefits by making depression their business - and by
taking and giving better care.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety