When it comes to depression and addressing the rising mental health needs globally, one doesn’t often think of its impact on businesses in the United States. One study was able to quantify the cost of depression on businesses in the US in 2012 alone, and these numbers have only increased over a decade later in the aftermath of the pandemic and various other threats to society. Learn about the impacts of depression on the workplace and how to combat this growing health crisis.
No one is immune to depression; anyone can have a major depression episode throughout their lifetime.
Depression greatly impacts the overall workforce and costs companies large sums of money if they do not address the issue and work toward making a happier, more supportive work environment.
Depression rates are continuously on the rise and are expected to be far more impactful than the research reflected — which was published over ten years ago.
Employers are finally starting to realize how much employee depression is costing their businesses. However, unfortunately, many workers either suffer in silence or go untreated. Hopefully, employers will learn how to recognize the sign of depression so they can get their employees the help they need.
Depression's cost on the workforce
Long before COVID-19 caused many businesses to start operating remotely, a study found that seven percent of employees aged 18–64 had at least one major depressive episode a year. These rates have only increased since the study was published in 2012, and its impact has spread on a global scale. One year over a decade ago, depression in the workplace cost businesses $51 billion from employees missing work and $26 billion from mental health treatment costs. These numbers are just for the United States and are much larger on a global scale.
Missed workdays and lower productivity
Another research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that businesses are more likely to incur extra financial costs when they choose to screen their employees for mental health conditions and provide treatment options. Despite the increased costs, this is becoming a necessary practice for companies that truly care about and value the well-being of their employees. Because depression has been on the rise at such an accelerated rate, companies are being forced to address the issue. Employees who have depression tend to have higher rates of missed workdays and lower productivity rates in comparison to employees who have not experienced a depressive episode.
The stigma on employees seeking help
Unfortunately, many employees do not speak up about their struggles or self-identify with their employers. This is often due to the stigma surrounding mental health and the fear of being treated differently. The good news is that as more attention is being demanded to address the mental health concerns of our nation, the stigma surrounding mental illness is lessening. Nevertheless, many do not speak out about what they are going through and choose to struggle in silence.
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The sad news is that if they did speak out and seek help, they’d have at least an 80% chance of experiencing a healthy turnaround. Proper therapy with effective treatment could produce positive outcomes resulting in far fewer or no missed workdays due to mental health issues.
Increasing employee happiness and well-being
It’s never a bad idea to have employees’ best interests in mind when running a company, as a team or chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, the happier and healthier the employees, the better the business will run. There are various ways that businesses can work to provide environments that promote health and happiness for their teams. This is a bit trickier in light of the pandemic, as many companies still have employees working from home or in a hybrid manner, only coming into the office ad hoc. Nevertheless, some ways that businesses can help promote good mental health among their staff include:
- Offering mental health screenings and providing treatment and early interventions for those who have red flags of developing a mental health condition.
- Facilitating a safe, peaceful, welcoming, inclusive, and comfortable working environment for all. This means prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, allowing employees to show up to work as their true, authentic selves without the fear of discrimination.
- Supporting the growth and development of the careers of your staff by offering various learning and development benefits, mentorship programs, etc.
- Valuing the skills, ideas, and talents that all employees bring to the table.
- Cultivating an environment among leadership that is highly supportive of their teams without harsh criticism but with support and team-building skills.
- Good communication and defined goals and expectations understood by all so that employees know what to strive for while having the support and resources needed to achieve those goals.
- Mental health benefits and tools, such as Headspace for managing work stress and anxiety, mental health days, and a mental health stipend if not included in company insurance.
Signs and symptoms of depression
It’s important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms (red flags) that an employee may be feeling depressed or having an episode of major depression. Some signs to look out for include:
- No longer interested in things they once enjoyed
- Social withdrawal or self-isolation
- Sudden decline in work performance
- Talk of harming oneself
- Substance abuse
- Mood changes and/or irritability
- Inability to make decisions
- Melancholic mood
- Eating and sleeping changes
- Crying or prolonged sadness
- Brain fog
If you suspect your employee or coworker is experiencing a depressive episode, it’s important for them to seek help. However, it’s much more powerful if they seek help rather than feel backed into a corner to get help. Instead, try approaching them and checking in with them. Let them know that you are there for them and support them and that help is available if they want to talk to someone. The sooner a person can intervene in treating their symptoms, the better they will be long-term, as untreated depression can have long-lasting negative impacts on a person and their life for years and those around them.
It’s a good business practice to be invested in the mental health and well-being of your employees. If you find that one of your team members is struggling with their mental health, let them know that help is available. There are a variety of therapists available both online and in-person to help get your employee back into a state of mind and well-being where they enjoy each day and come to work as their best selves.
- Mental Health America. Depression in the Workplace.
- At Health. Rates of Depression Among Full-Time Workers.
- JAMA Network Open. Clinical and Financial Outcomes Associated with a Workplace Mental Health Program Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- JAMA. Cost of Lost Productive Work Time Among US Workers with Depression.
- American Journal of Health Promotion. Work Performance of Employees with Depression: The Impact of Work Stressors.