In a given year, 18.8 million American adults or 9.5 percent of the adult population will suffer from a depressive illness, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is a temporary or ongoing mental condition that causes feelings of sadness, despair or hopelessness. The CDC estimates that millions of workdays are lost each year at a cost of billions of dollars to employers, in great part due to inconsistent treatment options.
Study of the effects of depression in the workplace is called health economics, as noted by the National Institute of Mental Health. Research by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2011 found that workplace depression screening, outreach and enhanced treatment improves employee performance.
Depression`s effect on work manifests in different ways. Workers may take unplanned workdays to stay home due to depression, while those who do come to work while depressed may appear moody or fatigued. In most cases depression negatively affects worker productivity, causing changes in performance and behavior. Workers with the highest rates of depression are in the personal care, service and food preparation fields. Often, professionals in these sectors have limited options for health care coverage, especially in mental health.
Employee options for mental health benefits depend on company or organizational budgets for health benefits that are allocated for employees as well as for employee assistance programs, whose benefits can often be accessed anonymously. This varying factor determines treatment options for depression. In general, depression patients who receive clinical help suffer experience fewer lost workdays.
A 2011 initiative of the American Psychological Association addressed this problem by focusing on reducing health disparities among underserved populations, with the aim of increasing access to psychological services. The APA worked in 2011 to generate resources and expertise for states so that psychological services could be more widely available, which could therefore benefit workers suffering from depression.
On January 1, 2011 the U.S. implemented new mental health parity regulations in health plans to further standardize how financial requirements apply to mental health plans, which are important to treatment of depression. The law extends equal coverage to all aspects of health insurance plans. “The implementation of mental health parity is a great milestone in recognizing that mental health care is just as crucial to a healthy life as prevention and treatment of physical ailments,” said psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, APA executive director for professional practice.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Workplace Health Promotion
- American Psychological Association: Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program
- The National Institute of Mental Health Strategic Plan
- American Psychological Association: 2011 Annual Report
- APA Practice Central: Mental Health Parity Implementation
- American Psychological Association: Few Americans Aware of LawBroadening Access to Mental Health Treatment
Alison Lake has been a journalist and editor since 2001, working with numerous newspapers and magazines. She has served on the world news desk of the "Washington Post" and contributed to The Atlantic, Foreign Policy Online, Al Jazeera English and GlobalPost.