The Impact of Depression in the Workplace
Article provided by the Mental Health Association in
Clinical depression affects employees at all levels of the corporate
ladder. It ranks among the top three workplace problems, following
family crisis. At any one time, one in every 20 employees experiences
depression. An estimated 200 million workdays are lost each year
due to employee depression. Depression tends to affect people
in their prime working years and, if left untreated, may last
Many things can contribute to clinical depression. For some people,
a number of factors seem to be involved, while for others a single
factor can cause the illness. Oftentimes, people become depressed
for no apparent reason. Causes include:
- Biological - People with depression typically
have too little or too much of certain brain chemicals, called
"neurotransmitters." Changes in these brain chemicals
may cause or contribute to clinical depression.
- Cognitive - People with negative thinking
patterns and low self-esteem are more likely to develop clinical
- Gender - Women experience clinical depression
at a rate that is nearly twice that of men. While the reasons
for this are still unclear, they may include the hormonal changes
women go through during menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth
and menopause. Other reasons may include the stress caused by
the multiple responsibilities that women have.
- Co-occurrence - Clinical depression is more
likely to occur along with certain illnesses, such as heart
disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's
disease and hormonal disorders.
- Medications - Side effects of some medications
can bring about depression.
- Genetic - A family history of clinical depression
increases the risk for developing the illness.
- Situational - Difficult life events, including
divorce, financial problems or the death of a loved one can
contribute to clinical depression.
Studies shows that people with depressive symptoms spend more
days in bed than do people with diabetes, arthritis, back problems
or lung problems. Each year, depression costs the U.S. economy
$43.7 billion dollars, including $31.3 billion for indirect costs,
such as decreased productivity and lost work days, and $12.4 billion
in direct costs, such as medication and physician time.
Unfortunately, many employees with depression don't seek the
treatment they need. According to a 1996 survey of employee assistance
professionals, some common reasons employees do not seek treatment
is that they believe they can handle it on their own, are unaware
they have depression, have concerns about employee confidentiality
policies, or believe their health insurance will not cover treatment
Depression in the workplace often manifests itself in a variety
of ways, including decreased productivity, morale problems, lack
of cooperation, excessive fatigue, unexplained aches/pains, safety
problems and accidents, or excessive absenteeism. This can also
manifest through alcohol and/or drug abuse.
Other symptoms of depression include*:
- Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
- Sleeping too much or too little, middle of the night or early
- Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and
- Loss of pleasure and interest in activities once enjoyed
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment
(such as chronic pain or digestive disorders)
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
- Thoughts of suicide or death
*People who possess five or more of these symptoms for two weeks
or more could have clinical depression and should see their doctor
or a qualified mental health professional for help.
If you are an employer, supervisor or colleague, you can help
people with depression by educating employees at all levels about
depression and recognizing that it's a common medical illness
that is treatable in more than 80 percent of all cases. You can
also identifying national and community organizations that can
provide help, such as the National Mental Health Association,
and obtaining and distributing their information to all employees.
In addition, training supervisors and colleagues to recognize
the symptoms of depression while emphasizing that although they
can/should not diagnose the illness, will help refer people to
an employee assistance professional (EAP) counselor or other mental
health professional, if appropriate. Other steps to help include
ensuring employees that state/federal law and EAP policy dictates
employee confidentiality, unless there is a risk of harm to oneself
or others and making sure that employee health benefits include
mental health treatment.
Lastly, ensuring management is understanding and supportive of
employees with depression is vital to employees seeking help.
This might include setting flexible work schedules for employees
during treatment and assessing the company's policies on this
Encourage employees to take a depression screening. Whether for
heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression -
health screenings provide a quick and easy way to spot the first
signs of serious illness and can reach people who might not otherwise
seek professional medical advice. Clinical depression is a common
medical illness affecting more than 19 million American adults
each year. Like screenings for other illnesses, depression screenings
should be a routine part of healthcare.
Life can be enjoyable again! With recognition and treatment,
clinical depression can be overcome. Talk with your doctor or
a qualified mental health professional if you think you may have
symptoms of clinical depression. To determine whether you are
experiencing symptoms, take a free and confidential depression-screening
test at www.deprssionscreening.org.
Content of this article was provided by the National Mental Health
1. National Institute of Mental Health, D/ART Campaign, "Depression:
What Every Woman Should Know," (1995). Pub No. 95-3871.