John sat at his desk, exhausted. Not being able to focus on his work that he was already behind on, he thought about how not only has he lost attention at work, but how his interest in most aspects of his life has also diminished. He realized his whole outlook had shifted. He no longer could see the positives, and could only dwell on the negatives.

John is not alone. Exhibiting symptoms of depression, he is one of approximately 18.8 million American adults who face depression each year. Depression ranks third for problems within the workplace for employees, only behind family crisis and stress, according to Mental Health America. Not only do employees report depression as a workplace issue, but depression is also something employers need to become increasingly aware of. Mental Health America calculates that untreated depression costs the United States over 51 billion dollars due to absenteeism and lost productivity.

What is depression? The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy activities for an extended amount of time. Depression is a common, and serious illness. Symptoms include those that John was experiencing; fatigue, lack of ability focus, loss of interest in activities that were once joyful, and a hopeless outlook. For a full list of symptoms associated with depression, visit In the workplace, it is especially important to take note of a decrease in consistency or productivity and quality of work, an increase in absenteeism, errors, procrastination and incidences of withdrawal.

Luckily for John, his concerned wife was able to get him to see his doctor, who identified the problem. John started medication and quickly began to improve. John’s ability to get control of his depression isn’t the exception. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if diagnosed and treated about 80% of cases of depression can improve. Depression can be managed and employees can live a fulfilling and successful life even with this diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the negative stigma associated with clinical depression is making it hard for employees to seek treatment and disclose their diagnosis to colleagues and supervisors. Not everyone has the same support that John had, leaving them alone to handle their disease. Employees may not want to be judged or regarded any differently, and therefore keep their diagnosis to themselves, only increasing their level of stress.

Those with depression are now protected through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which expands employer’s responsibilities in making accommodations for employees with mental health disabilities as well. Employees with depression should now feel comfortable talking to their employer in order to reach a better understanding of the employee’s needs.

Employers and managers should be well versed in the Employee Assistant Programs that they offer their employees. Being familiar with the benefits available will allow employers to encourage employees to take advantage of these services.

Just like John, one out of every 10 American adults faces depression. Raising awareness among managers and employees helps to create an understanding and supportive environment for these employees. Not only could this type of positive workplace culture help to prevent depressive illnesses, it will also foster feelings of support and comfort for those already diagnosed. This allows employees to reach out, thus creating a stronger team and organization. Promoting a supportive and positive workplace environment is now more important as ever, as rates of depression continue to rise.

Kay Monks

Kay is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C, where she is enrolled in the Health Promotion Education program. Kay has been an intern with AdvancingWellness since early 2011.