Clinical depression has become one of the country’s most costly illnesses, according to Mental Health America (MHA), a more than 100-year-old community-based nonprofit located in Alexandria, Virginia.
In October, the organization collaborated with the Fass Foundation to release a report called, “Mind the Workplace,” which included findings from a two-year research project launched to understand more about mental health concerns in the workplace.
The report found that depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, following only family crisis and stress.
Further, three percent of total short-term disability days are due to depressive disorders — 76 percent of those cases representing female employees.
Officials at MHA say they recognize the psychological impact that workplaces can have on their employees.
Millions of employees spend a large part of their lifetime at work, increasing the effect that workplace environments can have on psychological well-being, researchers found.
MHA’s research, which counts as part of an ongoing commitment to uncovering workplace disparities and addressing the psychological needs of the workforce, also found that disengaged workers can contribute upwards of $450 to $500 billion a year in losses in productivity.
“We know that employees who are overstressed and under-supported can significantly impact the people around them and a company’s success,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA, in a published statement.
“Interestingly, our research found that recognition overall was more important than salaries in employee satisfaction — which means even small companies with limited budgets can improve workplace health and productivity by focusing on the individual in addition to the bottom line,” Gionfriddo said.
Officials at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in D.C. have also provided assistance, suggestions and contacts for those suffering from workplace depression and other mental health-related problems at their place of employment.
The nonprofit has launched a new video titled “Stigma Free Company” which they said could be used independently or while working collaboratively with a NAMI state organization or affiliate. The video provides information about mental health and walks participants through a group discussion to determine ways to improve workplace well-being.
Even outside the continent, workplace mental health has emerged as a major issue.
In the United Kingdom, six in 10 people say poor mental health affects their concentration at work, according to the London-based MQ, which stands for mental health quality of life. Further, 70 million work days are lost in the U.K. each year because of poor mental health with 105 billion pounds ($141 million) lost each year to the economy.
Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
Unemployment serves as a well-recognized risk factor for mental health problems, while returning to, or getting work tends to be protective. On the other hand, a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity, the WHO said.
Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains, WHO officials add.
MHA officials said, if left untreated, depression can be as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the U.S economy, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs.
What’s more, depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if untreated, health experts say.
“While much of the results of our research show that many people are dealing with high levels of stress, low engagement or specific mental health concerns, the results also pointed to some low-cost options that could make things better,” Gionfriddo said.
“Not everything is about money,” he said. “Workplace perks can go a long way in creating a healthy environment with higher levels of job satisfaction and employee engagement. Workplace challenges can be turned into opportunities if companies incentivize employees with workplace perks, particularly those determined to have the largest influence on workplace health.”
Harassment and bullying at work are some of the most commonly reported issues and often trigger work-related stress, said WHO officials who noted that work-related risks to mental health also include: inadequate health and safety policies within a company; poor communication between employees and their managers; employees’ limited participation in decision-making or control over work; low levels of support for employees; inflexible working hours; and unclear tasks or organizational objectives and goals.
“It’s important to create a workplace that prioritizes the health, safety and well-being of employees,” said Dr. Enes Kingman, who has worked in psychiatry for 27 years. “Yes, money can be saved, but more importantly, so can the well-being of humans which should be a priority for all.”
The World Economic Forum notes that a healthy workplace can be achieved if there’s a concerted effort to protect mental health and reduce work-related factors.
A healthy workplace which focuses on mental health promotes: adaptation to fit different needs; a greater balance between work and home life; the encouragement to address all mental health problems regardless of cause; the inclusion of research from comparable companies in efforts to provide support; a commitment to both providing support and directing employees toward avenues where they can secure additional help; and getting employees more involved in the workplace and supporting career development and creativity.
With those steps, “a lot can be achieved,” Kingman said.