Workplace depression: mental health treatment and employee productivity


By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, PhD

In past

columns, we have touched on the connection between

workplace depression

– sometimes due to trauma or injury – and worker productivity. However, depression is also an illness in and of itself that can occur without discernible cause and wreak havoc on a patient’s health and company profits alike. The

American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

(ACOEM) contends that workplace depression is a “common, chronic and often recurring disorder” with a substantial impact on all facets of employee and organizational performance. In order to properly rehabilitate workers who are suffering from depression, it is critical for employers to understand the illness – and to seek help from qualified mental health professionals.

The costs of depression

According to the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression affects approximately one out of every ten adults in the country. It is a debilitating and costly illness -- one that can be crippling on its own and also exacerbate other chronic health problems like arthritis, asthma, cancer and diabetes. In fact,

Mental Health America

reports that depression is becoming one of the most financially burdensome illnesses in the country: left untreated, it rivals AIDS and heart disease in expense to the U.S. economy with total costs exceeding $51 billion.

Depression in the workplace

Many depressed persons will be employed when they experience symptoms, and subsequently find themselves suffering not only in their personal lives, but in their professional sphere as well. ACOEM reports that, in all its forms, employee depression can result in the following workplace concerns:

Excessive absenteeism

Reduced productivity

Risk to employment status

Disruption of work flow and environment

High health care, disability and company costs

Because only some patients struggling with depression will be able to correctly identify and seek treatment for the disease on their own, many cases will develop unnoticed. Astute observation and intervention from fellow employees, psychologists and workplace personnel are thus critical factors in the timely diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of depressed persons.

That said, different forms of depression take on varying characteristics. In other words, there is no single set of symptoms or behaviors that would allow an employer or human resources manager to definitively assess workers and pinpoint cases of depression. Only an experienced psychologist or psychiatrist is truly qualified to diagnose mental illness. However, when it comes to workplace environments, cooperation and proactive assessment protocols are necessary to ensure that those who may be suffering from depression receive an accurate diagnosis. Without such measures, depressed employees are likely to experience symptoms that complicate their presence in the workplace, incur greater health care expenses and impair their ability to return to work.

Depression is one of the most expensive health problems in the workplace, and especially in today’s economy it is essential that measures be set in place to defray the costs of on-the-job mental illness for the benefit of employees and organizations alike. To learn more about depression diagnosis and treatment, or to consult a

Qualified Medical Evaluator

in a depression-related workers compensation case, contact me at

or online at