Depression in the workplace

(istockphoto) (istockphoto)

If you're dealing with depression at work, you're hardly alone. You may not know it, because it's not exactly water cooler conversation, but a new survey from Gallup finds that about 12 percent of U.S. workers have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.

These workers miss an estimated additional 4.3 days of work each year compared with those who have not been depressed, resulting in an estimated loss of more than $23 billion in productivity annually to American businesses. About half of those workers, or 6 percent of U.S. employees, are currently being treated for depression.

Part-time workers were even more likely than full-time workers to be affected, with 16.5 percent having had a diagnosis at some point in their lifetimes and 8.5 percent being currently treated.

Of course Gallup, which works with employers to create a more "engaged" workforce, uses this opportunity to tell leaders that one "potentially fruitful strategy for employers to help improve the mental wellbeing among some employees with depression or depressive symptoms is engaging them through the fulfillment of certain critical psychological needs in the workplace." Maybe so. If we all got to spend more of our work days sharpening our strengths, mastering new challenges and dealing with professional, emotionally stable managers who found ways to actually help us grow and develop in our jobs rather than make things more difficult at every turn, the numbers might indeed be better.

But depression is also a serious mental illness, one that improving employees' job satisfaction obviously might not be able to solve. Currently, some 85 percent of H.R. professionals say their employers offer mental health benefits, a number which should go even higher next year with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's expansions for mental health coverage. More employers could also offer access to employee assistance programs (just 78 percent of H.R. professionals say they do).

Finally, as Gallup does note, more employers should increase efforts to educate managers and culturally de-stigmatize depression and how it's treated in the workplace. As long as people feel more comfortable talking to their boss about a cancer diagnosis than a mental health issue, there will be far too many people afraid to ask for the time off—and the help—that they need.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Here's all the stuff that supposedly costs us billions in "lost productivity"

Don't like your job (or career)? You're not alone.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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Jena McGregor · July 24, 2013

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