Depression Affects Work Productivity

Trouble Focusing, Working Slowly, Feeling Tired -- All Signal Clinical Depression

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June 17, 2003 -- Cycles of depression affect a person's productivity at work -- yet most employers don't recognize the problem. And most people with clinical depression don't get the help they need.

A new study, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, discusses the impact of clinical depression on the American workplace.

Employers lose an estimated $44 billion every year due to workers with clinical depression, writes researcher Walter F. Stewart, PhD, MPH, with Geisinger Health Systems in Danville, Pa.

All sorts of ailments affect productivity -- migraine headaches, back pain, allergies. But clinical depression is among the most costly, because depressed people still show up for work, but their performance may be substantially reduced while there, he adds.

In his nationwide study, Stewart and his colleagues conducted telephone interviews of some 1,200 employed adults. To assess the impact of clinical depression on their productivity, Stewart's researchers asked each if, in the last two weeks, they had:

  • Work troubles -- inability to concentrate, need to repeat a job, working more slowly than usual, feeling tired at work, accomplishing nothing during the work day because they weren't feeling well?
  • Treatment for clinical depression -- whether they were seeing a doctor for it, medications prescribed, and how well the drugs worked?
  • Symptoms of other health problems?

Just over 200 of the employees showed signs of depression -- with close to 90 of those meeting the criteria for clinical depression.

Other findings:

  • 77% of those with depression reported some lost performance time at work.
  • Less than one-third of people with clinical depression were taking a prescription drug to treat it.
  • Of those taking antidepressants, only 69% to 81% had taken it in the past two days.

The stigma surrounding mental disorders still exists, which means that doctors too often don't detect clinical depression, says Stewart.

'A majority of the costs that employers face from employee depression is invisible and explained by reduced performance while at work,' says Stewart.

Few employees are getting treated for clinical depression -- which 'suggests that there may be cost-effective opportunities for improving depression-related outcomes in the U.S. workplace,' he says.

Eli Lilly and Co., a WebMD sponsor, provided financial support for this study.

SOURCE: June 18, 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association.

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