According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 17 to 20 million Americans each year develop depression—a serious and common mood disorder. Depression is intense and attacks the mind and body at the same time. It is estimated that one out of five adults may experience depression at some point in their lives.
“Depression is seriously underestimated in the workplace and affects nearly 10 percent of our population at any time,” says M. W., M.D., medical director of OccNet, the occupational health service of the Health Alliance.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities
- Changes in sleep and appetite
- Restlessness or irritability
- Decreased energy, feelings of fatigue
- Inability to make decisions or concentrate
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Why should employers be concerned about depression? According to Dr. W, “The cost of depression at work is extremely high, not only because of the medical costs of treatment, but more so from lack of productivity and attendance in untreated cases.” The cost of untreated depression in the workplace approximates $24 billion annually. Individuals with depression are difficult to reach despite the finest of medical benefits and resources available to them. Denial, shame and confusion regarding symptoms inhibit employees from seeking help from their employers, and from seeking it early when treatment can be most effective and least costly, according to Screening for Mental Health, Inc. Employers can address this problem by instituting “screening” programs in the workplace. Depression screening is not “diagnostic” and does not take the place of a personal evaluation by a mental health professional. Screening merely suggests if symptoms are consistent with the treatable illness of depression. Screening provides the employee with:
- An anonymous, safe way to determine if one might be depressed and therefore at risk for harm
- Immediate results and referral to a source for further evaluation and treatment
- Expanded awareness and de-stigmatization about one’s illness
Screening programs can take several forms, but they are intended to protect the privacy of the employee. People with depression need treatment in order to function fully and to prevent recurrence. According to D. S., M.D., medical director for psychiatry at The Fort Hamilton Hospital and Behavioral Health Services, “There are many different effective treatments for depression, just as there are many individual differences in depression. So many people wait, out of uncertainty, embarrassment, or because they think they should be able to take care of everything themselves. The result is suffering that extends far beyond any reasonable point. It is most important that if you think you are depressed, seek help.” More than 80 percent of people with depression improve with treatment—usually with medication plus psychotherapy or counseling-by the end of one year, and most improve much sooner. The cost of treating depression is much less than the cost of leaving it untreated. Individuals risk job loss, destruction of relationships, social isolation and physical illness. Employers can help!
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