Did you know that one in ten people in the U.S. report being depressed? That’s the latest figure from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As I look around my office, I wonder which one of us is the “lucky winner.” I try to guess which member of my family might suffer from this disease. And I wonder why we all work so hard to keep depression a secret, which makes it harder to identify and treat.

This all came to mind when I recently sat in on a webinar from the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH). The statistics were astonishing, saddening and eye opening. Afterwards, I naturally turned to Google to learn more.

A Serious Problem

Depression is a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant. People with depression are often unable to live in a normal way.

Depression is more than just a bad day; it is a mental illness that requires dealing with grief, loss of interest, changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, behavior, guilt, concentration problems and more. The list goes on and on.

According to the webinar, depression often occurs when people have other serious medical conditions. People with the following conditions also suffered from depression at the levels provided below:

  • Chronic Pain     53%
  • Asthma           45%
  • Stroke            40%
  • Heart attack    40%
  • Diabetes          25%

In most cases the symptoms of depression are not treated by professional help but rather by counterproductive behaviors such as excessive drinking, eating or drugs; sleeping too much or too
little; or reckless behavior.

DepressionHow does depression affect the workplace?

After viewing the webinar and reading just five of the 136,000,000 search results in Google, I was already overwhelmed. Then I received an unexpected email containing an employer case study on addressing depression in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

The email shared how Minnesota’s largest county tackled its significant workforce depression problem during the height of the country’s recession in 2008.

High levels of employee depression had resulted in:

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Loss of productivity
  • Increase in disability claims
  • Decrease in stay-at-work and return-to-work metrics

Depression often has a big impact on the employer’s bottom line. Nationwide, NBCH figures show that absenteeism and reduced productivity cost employers $36 billion in 2012, while another $27
billion was spent on direct medical treatment costs.

What are employers supposed to do?

Hennepin County solved its depression problem by forming an “emotional wellness team.” The team set goals to improve mental health screenings, adopt earlier interventions, make modified work
plans more accessible, facilitate a quicker return to work and leverage existing resources such as the employee assistance program.

They did this by:

  • Analyzing data – highlighting chronic conditions and absenteeism among both males and females.
  • Providing supervisors and managers with tools to spot troubled workers through trainings and seminars.
  • Advertising and broadcasting that their organization is a depression-friendly environment.
  • Hiring a clinician to visit worksites.
  • Designing an effective program to track results.

The webinar recommended purchasing a program for all depressed employees, otherwise known as a collaborative care approach or depression management for the workplace.

This approach is based on providing the patient or employee with a prepared primary care practice, a care planner and if needed a mental health specialist. All three players work together in a
three-step process:

  1. Depression screening with primary care provider
  2. Primary care provider works with care manager to begin treatment
  3. Care manager and primary care provider consult with mental health specialist if treatment is ineffective.

It is important to note that none of this occurs in the workplace but is solely supported by the employer.

Address the Problem

Depression is a terrible disease with the potential to affect anyone in the workplace. It can only be addressed if there are resources available and if the patient is willing to tap those resources through treatment. To find more information about depression and programs that can be implemented in the workplace, visit the  American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website.

And if you’re one of the 10 people who suffer from depression, remember that you’re not alone. People with depression shouldn’t be embarrassed or try to hide this disease. They should speak to a
doctor or someone they trust to get guidance on how to control it.

Many employers offer free, confidential help through an employee assistance program that allows employees to speak with a trained representative who can guide the individual in the right direction
to get help. The internet also has a lot of resources; I was impressed by HelpGuide.org.

Tierney Anderson

Tierney Anderson

Senior Marketing & Events Specialist at The Alliance
Tierney Anderson joined The Alliance in 2009 and currently serves as the cooperative's marketing & events specialist. She previously served as marketing and member services coordinator. Her responsibilities include the development of effective communications and marketing materials for Alliance members and business partners by executing marketing plans and promoting products, services and events.

In addition to her work at The Alliance, Tierney is an active member on The Business Forum, previously serving on the board and acting as senior chair for the ATHENA committee. Tierney also participates in the Advertising Federation of Madison and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network of Madison.

Tierney earned her bachelor's degree of business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with an emphasis in information systems and a certification on the Project Management Body of Knowledge.

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