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Why Employers Should Care about Depression

Depressive illnesses, including major depression and bipolar disorder, are highly prevalent in the United States, affecting nearly one in five adults at some point in their life. These conditions are also among the top five causes of disability globally, and depression ranks as the #1 contributor to disability in the U.S. and Canada.

Depression is one of the most costly health conditions for American employers. Nearly 63% of the $83 billion in total economic costs (including both direct costs of healthcare services and indirect financial costs) associated with depression annually are due to workplace losses.

Depression is associated with more than $44 billion per year in lost productivity in the workplace from both absenteeism (workers with depression lose approximately 2.3 days of work per month) and “presenteeism” (workers with depression are often not able to accomplish as many tasks or perform at as high a level as workers without depression).

Effective treatment has been shown to not only reduce depressive symptoms for workers but also improve workplace outcomes, such as employee retention and productivity. Unfortunately, many employment policies regarding depressive disorders and chronic health conditions, in general, are not informed by clinical understandings of these conditions and the role that employment can play in helping improve recovery.

Studies have shown that workers who return to work soon after depressive episodes have better outcomes than those on long-term disability leave. Employer policies that limit voluntary leave-time may also promote presenteeism by forcing workers with depression to come to work even when this could hamper their treatment plan. Employers may also feel constrained by litigation concerns, and adopt policies that discourage employees from seeking treatment for depressive disorders.

Finally, employers can act as a strategic resource for addressing (or, unfortunately, unintentionally promoting) stigma associated with depressive disorders by their policies regarding returning to work following an episode.