Understanding Depression in the Workplace

For someone suffering through depression, navigating through each day can be a challenge.

Getting out of bed every morning may seem overwhelming. Making it to work to sit in front of a computer screen and interacting with colleagues can be a daunting task.

And for the employer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found depression has a real effect on the workplace. The organization estimated in a study as far back as 2003 that depression caused 200 million lost workdays each year — at a cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers.

In a three-month period in 2001, the CDC found patients with depression missed an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity.

A National Survey on Drug Use and Health report published in 2007 said combined data from 2004 to 2006 indicated that an annual average of 7 percent of full-time workers aged 18 to 64 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.

And in the long run, depression will reduce an employee’s work efficiency and attendance.

“A lot of times they fear that their employer will not or does not understand them and that they do not usually get the same type of support that they would receive if they had a clear diagnosable medical illness like cancer,” said Luke Hansen, a psychologist with the Mercy Outpatient Psychiatry.

“So a lot of times people will therefore not open up about it, maybe try to go to work despite the depression or not get the treatment they need.”

Hansen said he once spoke with a white-collar worker who is expected to process a certain number of financial items each day.

“She is struggling with some chronic pains, concerns and related systems of depression,” he said. “She has tried to speak with her employer and she feels as though she is getting the cold shoulder.”

Employees who acknowledge they need help have reported then being treated differently, Hansen noted. In some cases, these employees claim to have seen their job eliminated only to be filled later by someone else.

“Individuals who see how other co-workers (are treated) are afraid to be as open and honest,” he said.

When it comes to seeking help, what employers recommend may not be enough, Hansen said.

Seeking help

Those preoccupied with systems of depression or anxiety may be dealing with side effects from medication, which in turn can affect their concentration.

“They can show up for work but still, … realize you have the shell there but the person isn’t really there,” Hansen said.

Some employers promote employee-assistance programs. Mercy Medical Center, for example, has provided EAPs since 1986, covering 20,000 people in Linn County and the surrounding areas.

More employers are recognizing the “significant dollar cost to having behavioral health problems go untreated in the workplace,” said Ann Alliger, Mercy’s director of outpatient behavioral services.

“So really good news from our standpoint (is) that employers are recognizing mental health is equally as important as physical health really in terms of addressing productivity.”

Mercy clinicians do an assessment and treatment plan. Services are confidential, Alliger pointed out.

Finding solutions

Certain individuals may be more susceptible to depression. They need every bit as much support as individuals that may have cancer, heart disease or diabetes, mental health professionals noted.

“Those individuals have a chance of being better quickly,” Hansen said. “Not supported, they’re going to be more likely to miss work, (and) looking at having to replace people (is) not an easy process, either.”

The CDC notes that companies can hold depression recognition screenings or place confidential self-rating sheets in break rooms and on bulletin boards.

Kathy Koehn, assistant executive director of outpatient services at the Abbe Center for Community Mental Health in Cedar Rapids, added that it’s important to recognize the warning signs.

Depressed employees may routinely call in sick and slightly vary their reasons for being away each time, she explained. Employers also should take a look at employees’ productivity.

“If you have somebody that is present but they’re not present …, they might be at work but they’re not able to get anything done while they’re there,” Koehn said. “If you see a significant change or even more of a slow progressive change with somebody, that might be another key thing to be looking at.”

Alliger said employee assistance programs are underused, which she attributed to the stigma associated with mental illness.

She said such programs are a worthwhile investment, adding “you just can’t not have this be a part of a wellness program.”

Signs of depression to watch for in the workplace:

Remember that some employees might not even know they suffer from depression, but may chalk their symptoms up to lack of energy or high susceptibility to colds, for example. So here are some behavior patterns supervisors can keep in mind:

  1. Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  2. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or helplessness
  3. Frequent crying episodes
  4. Increased agitation and restlessness
  5. Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  6. Expressing thoughts of dying or suicide
  7. Poor appetite or overeating
  8. Less attention to appearance, such as untied shoes or torn clothing.

Source: Yahoo Health