This year, more than 19 million American adults (9.5 percent of the population) will suffer from depression. And when success in the work environment depends on everyone's contribution, no one can afford to ignore depression.
It is not a passing mood and certainly is not a personal weakness. It is a major and treatable illness. All job categories or professional levels can be affected, even the most outstanding employees.
Each year, depression costs the U.S. economy more than $43.5 billion. This includes $31.1 billion in indirect costs such as decreased productivity and lost work days, and $12.4 billion in direct costs for physician visits and medical treatments.
According to the Work Loss Data Institute Official Disability Guidelines, one employee case of depression could result in two to three weeks of lost work time or $1,500 per case per year at an average daily wage.
Each year, more than 200 million work days are lost to depression. A RAND Corp. study showed that people with depressive disorders spend more days in bed than those with diabetes, arthritis, back pain, lung problems and gastrointestinal conditions.
While the direct medical costs associated with depression are great, it is the productivity issues that are the real work place killers. Employers would be well served to look at the full picture by putting much more attention on depression. The real cost is with "presenteeism," people at work but limited in their ability to produce or participate.
Benjamin Druss, M.D., a Yale School of Medicine researcher, states that in a recent study, "the impact of depression on function at work was substantially higher than its association with missed days at work, suggesting that previous reports of absenteeism may represent only a small fraction of the cost of depression in the work place."
Depression is also one of the leading causes of disability, often occurring in people with heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. It affects their ability to stick to a treatment plan and return to work.
So what can employers do to manage the impact of depression in the work place? A good starting point is to train managers to recognize the signs of depression. And while the manager's role is critical, workers at every level can do something about depression.
In addition, employers and managers can alter the impact of depression in the work place. Here are some tips.
* Review corporate medical programs and employee health benefits.
* Consider on-site depression screenings.
* If you have an employee assistance program (EAP), ensure that your staff is trained to recognize depressive disorders, make appropriate referrals and provide other assistance consistent with policies and practices.
* Ensure employees that state and federal laws and EAP policies protect employee confidentiality.
* Increase management awareness.
* Make appropriate treatments available through the health plan.
* Realize that a depressed employee may need a flexible work schedule during treatment. and adjust company policy accordingly.
* Work with national or community organizations to obtain, display and distribute information about depression at your work place, and provide employees with referrals to treatment.
The good news is that, in more than 80 percent of cases, treatment is effective. It enables people with depression to return to satisfactory, functioning lives. Treatment includes medication, short-term talk therapy or a combination, and nearly everyone gets some degree of relief.
The National Mental Health Association's Labor Day 2001 Report concludes that the economy could cut its losses by half with an increased investment in the prevention and treatment of mental illness.
The challenge to employers is clear. Solutions are available by forming partnerships with plan administrators and other health care providers to optimize the identification and treatment of depression in the work place, as well as in dependent populations.
Sally L. Stephens, R.N., is president of Spectrum Health Systems. Stephens founded Spectrum Health Systems, an independent health management company, in 1997 to provide Fortune 100 quality health risk management programs to middle-market employers. Reach her at (317) 573-7600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.