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Updated 11:00 AM April 5, 2004



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Employees with depression view illness as roadblock
to career success

Although many managers in corporate America believe they are addressing depression in the workplace effectively, only 41 percent of employees feel they can acknowledge their illness and still get ahead in their careers, according to a study conducted for the Depression Center.

Experts say that employees who are fully treated for their depression have greater symptom control, which significantly improves productivity and optimism about career advancement. But while 89 percent of employees in the new survey reported having some form of mental health coverage, three out of four delayed seeking help and 36 percent remain only partially treated.
Once depression is treated properly, a person’s performance is indistinguishable from that of co-workers who do not have the illness.

The survey, presented last month at a summit co-sponsored by the Depression Center and the National Mental Health Association, explores employee and line- and benefit management perceptions of depression, and how it is addressed in the workplace. Survey findings highlight the difference between company perception and employee reality:

• Sixty-five percent of benefit managers report providing an employee assistance program (EAP) for depression, yet only 14 percent of employees have ever accessed one;

• Eight-five percent of middle managers believe assisting employees with depression is part of their job, yet only 18 percent have received the training necessary to identify depression and intervene with employees effectively;

• Eighty-three percent of benefit managers feel their companies have taken steps to ensure employees with depression are supported by their co-workers, yet only 37 percent conduct proactive depression education programs;

• Seventy-eight percent of benefit managers believe loss in productivity due to depression is more costly to companies than treating it, yet only 11 percent facilitate employee screenings.

"Before employees can be treated, they need to first understand that they have an illness. Implementing proactive, relatively inexpensive initiatives—such as screening, disease education and manager training—can have a tremendous impact on worker productivity and overall employee well-being," says Dr. Thomas Carli, clinical associate professor II in psychiatry and a Depression Center member. "These programs will also create a more supportive, stigma-free environment, which may encourage employees to feel more comfortable about accessing the mental health services available to them."

At any given time, one in 10 employees experiences depression, costing companies $52 billion in absenteeism and reduced productivity. The physical symptoms of depression, such as vague aches and pains, headaches and backaches, can complicate diagnosis for employees and magnify the economic burden for employers. Among employees surveyed, depression had a wide-ranging impact on their ability to function, including lack of motivation (83 percent), difficulty concentrating (82 percent) and chronic physical pain (24 percent) that made it uncomfortable for them to work. In addition, half reported missing one to three days of work a month as a result of their illness.

Once depression is treated properly a person's performance is indistinguishable from that of co-workers who do not have the illness, Carli notes. The survey results demonstrate that offering a greater number of "best practice" services, such as screenings, supervisor training and proactive education, creates a culture of acceptance and support that can positively influence a person's ability or willingness to seek appropriate care.

In general, employees in companies with a greater number of best practices implemented express higher levels of job satisfaction, are less likely to view their illness as a barrier to career advancement, have greater control of disease symptoms, and feel strongly that their company is supporting them with their illness, the study shows. Similarly, middle managers with a greater level of knowledge about depression and access to training are generally more comfortable managing someone with depression and are more likely to intervene in a positive way.

The Depression in the Workplace survey was sponsored by the Depression Center and supported by Eli Lilly and Company.

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