Don’t overlook depression and anxiety in the workplace

It’s time for workplaces to shine a light on common disorders that often go undiagnosed and unmentioned.

Depression and anxiety. Let’s talk about them.

As two of the most prevalent disorders in the United States, depression and anxiety directly affect the workplace with both social and economic costs.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 7.1 percent of U.S. adults – 17.3 million people – experienced a major depressive episode in 2017. Women were more likely to experience depression than men - 8.7 percent to 5.3 percent, respectively.

Anxiety has similarly overwhelming numbers. In the U.S., anxiety sits at number one of the most common mental illnesses. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says it is affecting 40 million adults (18 and older) or 18.1 percent of the population, annually.

Overall, The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates around 264 million people live with depression and many of those people suffer from anxiety symptoms as well.

How depression and anxiety affect work

In a 2016 American Psychological Association Work and Wellbeing survey , 16 percent of employees said mental health problems made job challenges more difficult to handle, and 15 percent said mental health issues kept them from achieving their goals at work. 

A national survey on anxiety in the workplace , led by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), found that people with anxiety listed difficulty with common job-related situations like meeting deadlines, maintaining personal and professional relationships, participating in meetings, giving presentations, managing staff and dealing with problems that arise.

As a result, those living with anxiety are more likely to call in sick, use short- and long-term disability, or be distracted and restless at work.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects employees from job discrimination when their medical needs impact their working ability, but the ADAA survey revealed that many people living with anxiety have a fear of sharing their disorder with anyone at work. The survey says 31 percent of people fear being labeled “weak,” while 22 percent of people fear it could affect opportunities for promotion and another 22 percent fear it would go in their file.

The costs of depression and anxiety are staggering:

  • A 2015 study found that depression costs society $210 billion per year .
  • Presenteeism, when employees are at work but have reduced productivity because of an illness, accounts for $78 billion of that.
  • The CDC estimates more than 200 million lost workdays each year.
  • A U.S. Chamber of Commerce report identified depression as one of the top two chronic health conditions driving health-related costs for employers when health-related productivity costs were factored in.

Resources for employees with depression and anxiety

In the APA study, only 41 percent of employees reported that their employer provided the resources necessary for employees to meet their mental health needs.

Because depression and anxiety are so prevalent, it’s important that managers feel prepared if an employee discloses a mental health concern.

Remember that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) includes mental illness in its requirements for ADA compliance. The EEOC has a guide for workers called “Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Condition in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights .”

Additionally, employers can be proactive in demonstrating that they care about their employees’ well-being. The CDC recommends several strategies for employers to support mental health. The three ideas below can be a good starting point:

  • Workplace wellness programs
    If you offer a wellness program, is mental health a component? If your company does not have a program, your health insurance carrier may provide wellness resources. Recent research from UCLA found that simply participating in a workplace wellness program could improve employees’ mental health. The same wellness program topics that enhance general employee well-being, such as healthy eating, good sleep habits and mindfulness, can benefit employees with mental health concerns.
  • Health benefits and employee assistance programs¬†
    Employers can help employees access professional mental healthcare resources through health insurance benefits and/or an employee assistance program (EAP) that provides counseling and referrals. The CDC calls EAPs “one of the most effective ways to support employees with depression or other mental health problems.”
  • Educational resources¬†
    Education programs give employers tools and resources to address depression in the workplace. Right Direction is one such initiative. Created by the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, Right Direction teaches employers and employees how to recognize the symptoms of depression and resources to seek help.

By learning more about how depression and anxiety affect individual employees and what it looks like in the workplace, employers can take steps to provide helpful resources and reduce the harmful effects of this illness.

This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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