Don’t overlook depression in the workplace

It’s time for workplaces to shine a light on one of the most common disorders – one that often goes undiagnosed and unmentioned.

Depression. Let’s talk about it.

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

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 6.7 percent of U.S. adults – 16.1 million people – experienced a major depressive episode in 2015. Women were more likely to experience depression than men (8.5 percent to 4.7 percent, respectively).

How depression affects work

In a 2016 American Psychological Association Work and Wellbeing survey , 16 percent of employees said mental health problems such as depression made job challenges more difficult to handle, and 15 percent said mental health issues kept them from achieving their goals at work. Younger workers had higher rates on both questions than older generations. 28 percent of millennials responded that their job challenges were more difficult to handle, compared to 6 percent of baby boomers.

The costs of depression 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 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.

The good news: 82 percent of employees in the APA study said they were in good psychological health. And employees who said their employer made them feel valued were more likely to report that they were in good psychological health.

Resources for employees with depression

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 is 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 recently released 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 can 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 affects 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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