Depression has always been a major mental health issue in America. But it‘s also, increasingly, a major workplace issue. A landmark 2003 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association draws the sobering conclusion, that depression costs employers $44 billion a year in lost productivity. Those are strictly indirect costs; they don’t even begin to reflect medical costs.

Michael Mazaar, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, states “Depression is now, in term of victims and economic impact, the world’s second most insidious illness, behind heart disease.”

Work is a big part of our lives. Depression can affect employees’ abilities to perform their  jobs efficiently. The inability to concentrate fully or make decisions can lead to safety risks, accidents or costly mistakes. Other problems can include absenteeism, alcohol and drug abuse, or morale issues.

Managers need to be aware of depression symptoms because employees often will not seek treatment because they fear the affect it will have on their job and are concerned about confidentiality. It is important to differentiate between depression and the blues, most people feel sad now and then.   Depression symptoms linger and interfere with an individual’s work or family life.  If five or more of the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks, attention is needed.

  • Sleeping too little, or too much, difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • A persistent sad, anxious, or empty feeling
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • Reduced appetite or weight loss or increase appetite and weight gain
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things, indecisiveness
  • Feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Restlessness, irritability

If you suspect an employee may be depressed, here are things that can be done to approach the employee and get them back on track.

  • Confront the situation quickly in a caring and gentle way.  Express genuine concern.
  • Be empathetic and non judgmental.
  • Listen.  Everyone has a story and wants to be heard. Don’t try to solve the problem.
  • Provide a solution.  Refer the employee to the Employee Assistance Professional or have a referral to counselors available.
  • Follow up and provide a supportive environment.

In eighty percent of cases, people with clinical depression can be successfully treated.  With recognition, intervention and support, most employees can overcome their depression and push forward with renewed energy.

Valorie Bender