Workforce depression costly to U.S. economy

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

More than 19 million adults will suffer from depression this year and most of those will be employed making depression among one of the most costly diseases to the U.S. economy today.

Because depression in the workplace is widespread and often overlooked, the Project CARE (Community Action Response Endeavor) Suicide Prevention Committee of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties is bringing this issue to the forefront this month during National Mental Health Awareness Month.

“Often times, depressed employees will not seek treatment because they are afraid it will negatively affect their job or that their employer or co-workers will think less of them. In reality, no job description or professional level is immune,” said Jackie Haas, executive director of the Helen Wheeler Center for Community Mental Health and coordinator of the Project CARE Suicide Prevention Committee.

Untreated depression is costly. A RAND Corporation study found that patients with depressive symptoms spent more days in bed than those with diabetes, arthritis, back problems, lung problems or gastrointestinal disorders. Estimates of the total cost of depression to the nation in 1990 ranged form $30 to $44 billion. Of the $44 billion figure, depression accounted for close to $12 billion in lost work days each year. Additionally, more than $11 billion in other costs accrue from decreased productivity due to symptoms that sap energy, affect work habits, cause problems with concentration, memory and decision-making. And, costs escalate further if a worker’s untreated depression contributes to alcoholism or drug abuse.

Still more business costs result when an employee or colleague has a family member suffering from depression. The depression of a spouse or child can disrupt working hours, lead to days absent from work, effect concentration and morale and decrease productivity.

However, with early recognition, intervention and support, treatment is effective in more than 80 percent of cases and employees will be able to return to productive, functioning lives both in the workplace and at home.

Employees at every level of an organization can do something to help, Haas continued. De-stigmatizing depression and understanding the symptoms are the first step in dealing with the problem. “Many times, a person doesn’t realize he or she is suffering from depression,” she explained. If management and co-workers are aware of the symptoms, they are much more likely to encourage the person to seek help.”

Mangers must be taught how to appropriately raise the issue with employees in a non-threatening and supportive way. Mangers must also be made aware that this kind of intervention is totally confidential and must make sure that they are clear about confidentiality issues with their employees.

Many businesses and organizations provide Employee Assistance Programs that assist employees and family members with substance abuse, mental health, family and other problems that negatively affect their job performance. If there is an Employees Assistance Program in place, employees should be aware of the services and EAP staff must be adequately trained to recognize depressive disorders, make appropriate referrals and provide other assistance consistent with polices and practices.

Employers and managers also should review corporate medical programs and employee health benefits. “Many times people won’t seek help because they assume their insurance is inadequate to cover costs,” she added.

Employers also may consider offering their employees confidential depression screening that will allow people to get help early and to recover much faster.
Project CARE was formed in 2001 in response to the area’s alarmingly high suicide rate. Comprised of representatives from several area organizations, it joins each May with the efforts of the National Mental Health Association to raise awareness of issues related to mental health.
For more information about Project CARE, contact Jackie Haas at 939-3543.

Project CARE Suicide Prevention Committee of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties

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