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Depression Affects the Workplace

Discussion of how depression affects employees and what a supervisor can do to aid an employee who is depressed.As a supervisor, you may notice that some employees seem less productive and reliable than usual-- they may often call in sick or arrive late to work, have more accidents, or just seem less interested in work. These individuals may be suffering from a very common illness called clinical depression. While it is not your job to diagnose depression, your understanding may help an employee get needed treatment.

  • Each year, depression affects more than 19 million American adults, often during their most productive years--between the ages of 25 and 44.
  • Untreated clinical depression may become a chronic condition that disrupts work, family, and personal life.
  • Depression results in more days in bed than many other ailments (such as ulcers, diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis) according to a recent large-scale study published by the Rand Corporation.

In addition to personal suffering, depression takes its toll at the workplace:

  • At any one time, 1 employee in 20 is experiencing depression.
  • Estimates of the cost of depression to the nation in 1990 range from $30-$44 billion. Of the $44 billion, depression accounts for close to $12 billion in lost work days and an estimated $11 billion in other costs associated with decreased productivity.

"Major depression and bipolar disorder accounted for 11% of all days lost from work in 1987, " reported the medical director of a public utility company.

There is, however good news. More than 80% of depressed people can be treated quickly and effectively. The key is to recognize the symptoms of depression early and to receive appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, nearly two out of three people with depression do not receive the treatment they need.

Many companies are helping employees with depression by providing training on depressive illnesses for supervisors, employee assistance, and occupational health personnel. Employers are also making appropriate treatment available through employee assistance programs and through company-sponsored health benefits. Such efforts are contributing to significant reductions in lost time and job-related accidents as well as marked increases in productivity.

Depression Is More Than the Blues

Everyone gets the blues or feels sad from time to time. However, if a person experiences these emotions intensely or for two weeks or longer, it may signal clinical depression, a condition that requires treatment.

Clinical depression affects the total person--body, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors--and comes in various forms. Some people have a single bout of depression; others suffer recurrent episodes. Still others experience the severe mood swings of bipolar disorder--sometimes called manic-depressive illness--with moods alternating between depressive lows and manic highs.

Symptoms of Depression Include

  • Persistent sad or "empty" mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia, early-morning waking or oversleeping)
  • Eating disturbances (loss of appetite and weight, or weight gain)
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Feelings of hoplessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Irritability
  • Excessive crying
  • Chronic aches and pains that don't respond to treatment