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Depression at Work

Depression at Work

How serious is depression on the job? According to nationwide labor reports and studies, it's more serious than most of us realize. Here are some shocking statistics: 

  • Depression accounts for an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost to employers of $17 billion to $44 billion.
  • More than $11 billion in other costs accrue from decreased productivity due to symptoms that sap energy, affect work habits and cause problems with concentration, memory and decision making.

Costs escalate further still if a worker's untreated depression contributes to alcohol or drug abuse. More business costs result when an employee has a family member suffering from depression. The depression of a spouse or child can disrupt working hours, lead to days absent from work, affect concentration and morale, and decrease productivity.

In a world fraught with mounting stresses, it's more important than ever for those struggling with depression to reach out for help and for employers to meet them halfway.

Should You Talk to Your Boss?

The question of whether to discuss depression with your supervisor is never easy. "There are misconceptions about depression, so tell only people who need to know or whom you trust," says Nancy Krahulec, the employee assistance program consultant for Minnesota Diversified Industries, a company that specializes in outsourcing products and services in the manufacturing industry. "Confide in your supervisor if you're comfortable doing so. If you need a reduced schedule, check with your employee health program, or have your doctor write specific recommendations for work."

Other specialists say you're likely to get a better response from your boss if you have a plan. "Even today, mental illness often holds a stigma," says Joan Runnheim Olson, who works as an employee assistance program (EAP) consultant for small businesses. "However, if your work performance has been or is on the threshold of being affected by your depression, talk with your manager and explain your situation. Assure him or her that you are seeking professional help."

Connie Sitterly, who calls herself the Workplace Doctor and is president of Fort Worth-based Sittcom, agrees. "Every supervisor is open to hearing about your situation, but they want to know what you are doing to solve the situation," says Sitterly, who is also a workplace speaker, author and executive coach. "If you are depressed, what are you going to do to about it, and how are you going to overcome it? Let them know 'here is what I am doing, and I would appreciate your patience. If it is affecting my performance, I will let you know, and if it impacts anyone else, please let me know.'"

How to Approach the Problem

Marshall Tanick, a Minneapolis-based employment law specialist with Mansfield, Tanick & Cohen, says that if an employee doesn't have access to an EAP, he should consider these steps:

  • Talk to someone, either a counselor or a confidant at work (be sure you can trust this person to keep your confidence).
  • Discuss the problem with your doctor. Depression commonly goes undiagnosed.
  • Try to determine the cause of the depression.

Usually, Tanick says, the things people worry about the most are related to money, family and their career. Is it one of these or a combination of things? Have things changed drastically in your life? Have you moved, lost a loved one or ended a close relationship? How is the event affecting you?

Tanick also recommends analyzing your workplace culture. "The way a business is organized and operates can have an effect on the mental health of its workforce," he says. "What is the physical environment like? The responsibilities of the job? How are personnel selected, promotions given and reviews handled?"

Sitterly says that sometimes a change in the daily routine or a change in attitude can start the positive energy flowing.

"A job is a privilege, and people often overlook that," says Sitterly. "When you walk into that parking lot and get to work, tell yourself, 'I don't feel as good today, but I am going to do the best that I can.'"

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