Man looking out window

Your Health, Employer Solutions | 10 months ago

Employers and Depression in the Workplace

  Help Employees Guard Against Mental Illness

By Charles Rich Jr., MD, medical director, Carolinas HealthCare System’s HEALTHWORKS Division  We recently discussed the hidden costs of mental health issues. While employees struggle silently with very real challenges out of fear and shame, employers face increased direct and indirect costs. Though a wide variety of disorders and diseases fall under the heading of mental health, depression is far and away the most common in today’s workplace. In fact, research shows that depression can be the single highest driver of healthcare expenses for a company when considering direct and indirect costs.

Employee Depression, Profit and Loss

According to data from the Harvard Mental Health Letter: • About 6 percent of employees in the average workplace have some symptoms of depression every year. • Even if they are at their desk, these employees can miss about 27 workdays per year. • About one-third of those 27 days are logged as formal “sick leave,” but the other 18 are due to lost productivity while in the office. • Perhaps most concerning is only a little more than half (57 percent) of employees with major depression were receiving professional help. • While treatment for depression is not an instant fix, employees who did receive help saw an increase in their productivity. In one study, employers saw an $1,800 annual return for every $100-400 invested in treatment.

Foster a Safe Work Culture

As we shared in our previous post, one of the first things an employer can do to help staff identify and treat mental health issues like depression is to foster a culture where employees feel safe reaching out for help, and where resources can be accessed easily. There are some additional steps that can be taken to help employees dealing with depression.

Screen for Mental Health Issues

As more and more employers offer preventive screenings for physical conditions like heart disease and diabetes, mental health checks are not as common. Work with your benefits provider to incorporate mental health screenings into your employee compensation package. Mental health checks are not always automatically included in regular checks by primary care physicians, so work with your provider network to see if this can be encouraged. Most of all, it is critical to engage with your staff to ensure they understand the confidential nature of these screenings. Many employees may opt out of screening for fear of being stigmatized. Make sure your employees understand how and where to access support services in a confidential environment.

Educate Your Team

Unlike a sprained ankle or the flu, the symptoms of mental health issues like depression can be difficult to identify if you aren’t familiar with the warning signs. Arm your staff with an understanding of how depression can manifest itself and establish a confidential process for employees to reach out for help, whether they notice the symptoms in themselves or a colleague. Your organization may also benefit from Mental Health First Aid training programs that can help identify mental health issues in the workplace and connect employees in need of assistance with resources in a safe, confidential manner. For more information on this program, contact your local HEALTHWORKS representative.

Get Moving

While it is not a definitive cure, physical exercise has been shown to dramatically improve symptoms of depression. Establishing a fitness routine is particularly important for sedentary staff members who spend their workday sitting in front of a computer under fluorescent lighting. Work with your HR department to establish a variety of fitness offerings to help employees be active throughout the day. Some examples could be starting a walking club, hosting in-house yoga or fitness classes, partnering with a nearby gym for daily group classes or offering a reimbursement for fitness memberships. Of course, exercise has even more benefits, as employees who are more active may see improvement in physical conditions such as obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure and heart disease. These are just a few ways employers can help their employees improve their quality of life and the company’s bottom line at the same time.

Share With Us

How has your organization addressed mental health issues? What strategies, programs or services have worked well? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @HEALTHWORKS and on LinkedIn