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Workplace depression costly to employees and employer

Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2006

We have all experienced episodes of sadness or anger, but for some people, those feelings are more than just episodes. In fact, depression is one of the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals in the United States. Left untreated, this common condition can cost $43.7 billion in absenteeism, lost productivity and direct treatment costs, according to the National Mental Health Association.

Despite its ubiquity, depression can sometimes be a touchy subject and may carry a stigma with those afflicted. That's why it's important for managers and co-workers to understand its potentially severe and debilitating symptom.

"Depression is first and foremost a medical condition with a strong genetic component, often precipitated by a significant loss or major life change that can impact all areas of an individual's life," explains Cathy Swan, senior clinical staff at VMC Behavioral Healthcare, an employee assistance company based in Gurnee, Ill. "The psychological and physical symptoms often impact one's interpersonal relationships, the ability to perform tasks of daily living, and performance in the workplace. Mood changes, fatigue, inability to concentrate and forgetfulness can be symptoms of depression."

Private problem

Many people - particularly men - go untreated for years before seeking some kind of medical attention. Workers living with depression - no matter how severe - often don't tell their company for fear of judgment or lack of privacy. However, experts agree that if your work is suffering because of it, it might be wise to give your boss the heads up.

Luckily, 80 percent of people diagnosed with depression can be treated successfully; however, it may take time to adjust to the proper dosage of medication, which can often lead to side effects all their own. For some people, the healing process is easy; for others, it can be a difficult and trying time. Either way, compassion and understanding are crucial.

"In the workplace, a manager may notice that an employee's job performance has been deteriorating," adds Swan. "For instance, an employee who is normally dependable, diligent and gets along well with coworkers may become tardy, call in sick, miss deadlines and be short tempered. The manager and/or co-workers of someone suffering from depression should address the issue with the employee before the they reach out for help."

Becoming educated about the illness will help managers and co-workers alike learn how to better deal with an employee who has been diagnosed. A small percentage of those suffering severe depression will attempt or commit suicide; however, most suffer in silence.

Help available

Many companies offer employee assistance programs as part of their benefits package to lend a hand in such cases. These programs offer access to licensed professionals who are trained in psychology in an anonymous, confidential setting.

"Many employers today care about the well-being of their workers," says Alan Davidson, co-author of "Healing the Heart of the World: Harnessing the Power of Intention to Change Your Life and Your Planet" (Elite Books, $25). "They understand more than ever the importance of worker wellness to job productivity."

- Lisa Radke

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