Survey: Two in Five Employees Missed Work Due to Depression

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Depression could be having a larger negative impact on worker productivity than most employers might realize, according to a new survey conducted by the Employers Health Coalition.

Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the respondents to the coalition’s Impact of Depression at Work Audit (IDeA) reported that they had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lifetime, and approximately 40 percent of those survey participants said that they had taken time off work to deal with their condition.

Researchers for the IDeA interviewed 1,000 U.S. workers ages 16 to 64, and the study results were released Nov. 12, 2014, during the annual conference of the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH), held in Washington, D.C.

“This survey provides evidence clearly demonstrating the detrimental impact of depression on the U.S. workforce and the associated stigma of the disease,” said NBCH CEO Brian Klepper. “The results show there is a vital need for employers to provide support and resources in their workplaces for those suffering from this debilitating disease.”

Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have estimated that every year, one in 10 American adults will be affected by some form of depression-related illness. In addition, officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) have ranked clinical depression as the world’s second-leading cause of disability.

The results of the IDeA appear to confirm some of the concerns raised by the CDC and WHO estimates by revealing that 64 percent of the survey respondents reported that they have experienced some level of cognitive-related challenges. These challenges, as defined in the study, included difficulty in concentrating, trouble with making decisions and memory-related issues, and according to the respondents, these cognitive problems affected their ability to perform certain work tasks.

A Hidden Problem?

In addition, the IDeA revealed that employers may not be aware of the prevalence of depression in their workplaces. Among the study participants who had been diagnosed with depression, 58 percent indicated that they had not informed their employers of their condition. When asked why they did not disclose their conditions, 49 percent reported that they believed that it would put their job at risk, while 24 percent said the risks of exposure and lack of confidentiality were too high.

Depression Care Benefits Offer Impressive ROI

The University of Michigan Health System has estimated that depression-related illnesses cost the U.S. economy more than $80 billion per year, while the CDC has pegged the cost to U.S. employers of lost workdays and reduced productivity at $44 billion. As a response to these numbers, researchers with the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Institute for Health Research and the University of South Florida developed a model to study the economic impact that providing enhanced depression treatment benefits would have on employers.

The model revealed that within two years of offering the enhanced benefits, employers realized a nearly 300 percent return on their investment (ROI). In other words, every dollar invested by employers in enhanced depression care returned approximately three dollars in improved productivity from employees who received the care.

While it is unclear how many employers offer their workers enhanced benefits for depression treatment, the CDC recommends that employers include mental health benefits in health insurance plans and consider offering support services such as depression recognition screenings, employee assistance programs and training for managers on how to recognize depression.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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