Workplace Depression

Categories: Executive Health

How happy are your employees and what can be done to improve the work environment

Stress, certain environments and repetitive tasks can all lead to depression among employees. Although many outside factors, such as family trauma, financial issues and medical conditions can also contribute to an employee’s depression, it is important for employers to recognize the signs and symptoms. Identifying depression early not only encourages early treatment, but reduces the economic loss felt by businesses.

Depression is a common condition in the United States – one out of every two families has a depressed relative. This high incidence translates to approximately 20 million depressed employees in America. As discussed in previous posts, medical conditions and outside factors affect worker productivity and result in financial losses for businesses and annual cost estimates due to depression range from $70 billion to $83.1 billion1.

Of the above:

• $12 billion from lost productivity

• $12 billion to absenteeism

• $26.1 billion from direct treatment costs

• $5.4 billion from mortality2

In addition to these direct costs, depressed employees’ disability costs are about 4.5 times greater than non-depressed employees3. With these significant losses to employers in this economy, it is more important than ever to recognize signs of depression among employees.

What are the symptoms of workplace depression?

Workplace depression can present in many ways. These include:

• Withdrawal or avoidance of social situations

• Speaking up less during meetings; loss of confidence

• Increase of conflict between employees or seeking out arguments

• Restlessness

• Fatigue

• Change in appetite or weight

• Reduced problem solving ability

• Reduced capacity for time management

• Reduced concentration on normal duties

• Inability to practice flexibility4,5

What are contributing factors to workplace depression?

Depression is caused by a disorder within the brain. Genetics may contribute to the likelihood of developing depression, but many people may develop symptoms without any family history of the illness.

Typically, a combination of genetics and environmental factors are involved with the onset of symptoms. Factors such as trauma, loss of a loved one, difficult relationship, financial issues or a stressful change in someone’s life (welcome or unwelcome) can trigger an initial episode. After the onset, later episodes may be brought on without an obvious trigger6.

In addition to causes outside of the office, stressors and workplace conditions can lead to depressive symptoms. These contributors include interpersonal conflicts, work demands, organizational politics, lack of faith in organizational management or leadership and perceived control over job duties and job environment7.

What can employers do?

Only half of those who experience depression actually seek treatment, but for those that do, treatment is found to be up to 80 percent effective over the long term. To avoid any stigma or resistance, screening and encouraging healthy mental habits should be integrated into a company’s overall wellness program and promoting healthy lifestyles for employees.

Evaluating what causes stress for employees is a simple way to integrate a support system for workers who might be experiencing depression. For example, stress can contribute to obesity, sickness and even memory loss. Supporting a healthy lifestyle by encouraging walking breaks, health snacking and other habits that improve the quality of life for employees will reduce employee stress and lessen the chance of its contribution to depression.

Educating workers about depression is one of the first steps to becoming self-aware if there is an issue. Counselors or outside experts can also be brought in to “depression proof” the workplace and help employers avoid tasking workers with unclear job expectations, consistently short work deadlines, monotonous job responsibilities, limited opportunities for creativity, negligible social and psychological support or discriminatory factors8. Although resources may be limited, screening for and providing preventative care for employees can save businesses thousands of dollars in expenses required for providing disability or care for employees who may be forced to leave due to depression9.

Written by Leeann Garms
_________________________________________________________________________________________________ [1] http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas10/Article_04.pdf

[2] IBID

[3] IBID

[4] http://www.comh.ca/publications/resources/dwf/Work_Depression.pdf

[5] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/symptoms-of-depression-and-mania.shtml

[6] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/causes-of-depression.shtml
[7] http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas10/Article_04.pdf
[8] http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas10/Article_04.pdf
[9] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17146009