10% of European Workers Surveyed Missed Work Due to Depression

By Roy Maurer November 4, 2012

One in 10 working people surveyed in Europe have taken time off work because of depression, with an average of 36 days lost per episode of depression, or more than 21,000 days of lost working time overall, according to a recent survey from the European Depression Association.

The association, an alliance of organizations, researchers and health care professionals from 17 countries in Europe, raises awareness of depression on the continent.

Over 30 million European citizens will miss work because of depression at some point in their lives, according to the Impact of Depression in the Workplace in Europe Audit (IDEA) survey.

The survey polled over 7,000 people from seven European countries—Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the U.K.—and found that 20 percent received a diagnosis of depression at some point in their lives.

According to the survey conducted in September 2012, the average number of days taken off work during the last episode of depression varied across Europe, with Germans and British taking the highest number of days—around 41—and Italians taking the lowest number of days at 23.

On the other hand, among the employees experiencing depression, Germans (61 percent), Danish (60 percent) and British (58 percent) were most likely to take time off work, while Turkish respondents were least likely to take time off at 25 percent.

In addition, the survey found that nearly one in three managers had no formal support or resources to deal with employees who have depression, and 43 percent of them called for better policies and legislation to protect employees.

Germany showed the highest lack of support among managers surveyed, with 44 percent, compared to Turkey with the lowest lack of support at 10 percent.

Managers in Great Britain said they would most likely go to their HR department for support, while those in Turkey said they would most likely go to medical professionals.

Dr. Vincenzo Costigliola, president of the European Depression Association, said in a statement, “The results of the IDEA survey show that much needs to be done in raising awareness and supporting employees and employers in recognizing and managing depression in the workplace. We ask policymakers to consider the impact of depression on the workforce and charge them with addressing depression and workers and workplace safety.”

The full results of the IDEA survey will be published in early 2013.

The Cost and Scope of Depression in the Workplace

The costs of depression in the European Union were estimated at 92 billion Euros in 2010.

Clinical depression has become costly in the United States too. Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health awareness, estimated that worker absenteeism from depression costs the U.S. economy $51 billion annually in lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, in a three-month period, depressed employees miss an average of 4.8 days and have an average reduced capacity for 11.5 days.

The CDC stated that an estimated 1 in 10 U.S. adults report depression. Depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if left untreated. The most sobering statistic: almost 15 percent of those with severe depression will die by suicide, according to Mental Health America.

“It’s an important thing that employers are acknowledging depression, and if they don’t have the tools to deal with it, going out and getting information and help from organizations that do have the tools,” said Erica Ahmed, director of public education for Mental Health America.

HR needs to be acknowledging this as an issue in the workplace, Ahmed told SHRM Online. HR professionals should be having this conversation with supervisors and empowering supervisors to educate themselves on mental health literacy and psychological first aid, she said.

“It’s similar to traditional first aid in that it’s about recognizing signs and symptoms [see below for more information]. But initially being able to have that conversation is crucial in that it helps to reduce stigma about depression, which is a major issue,” she said.

Ahmed also advised HR professionals to promote good mental health through wellness programs. “The absence of depression in your workplace doesn’t mean you have good mental health,” she noted.

Managing Depressed Employees

Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance program (EAP) professionals, following only family crisis and stress, according to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), based in Arlington, Va.

“EAPs have an important role to play in preventing, identifying and managing depression,” said Marina London, spokesperson for the EAPA.

“Every EAP has reported increased utilization of services since the economic downturn,” London told SHRM Online. “In particular, issues around financial service and credit counseling have skyrocketed,” she said.

A study showed that 65 percent of U.S. employers provided EAPs in 2008, up from 56 percent in 1998. Over 97 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees have EAPs, according to the EAPA.

HR professionals have a role to play in training supervisors to discern when what appears to be a performance problem actually reflects the need for help. EAPs and HR need to work very closely together, London said.

“If managers notice that somebody is not functioning in the workplace up to their potential, particularly somebody that in the past has been functioning highly, send them to the EAP, and let [the EAP] assess whether they are depressed or not,” said London.

However, the IDEA survey revealed that there is poor awareness of common symptoms. While 88 percent of respondents identified low mood or sadness as a sign, just a third knew that forgetfulness could point to depression, and around half knew depression could affect concentration.

Despite the high rates of absenteeism due to depression, one in four stated they did not tell their employer about the problem. Of these, one in three said they felt it would put their job at risk in the current economic climate.

In a Canadian survey released Oct. 9, 2012, the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace found that 84 percent of employers and managers said they believe it is part of their job to intervene when they feel an employee is exhibiting signs of depression. And 63 percent said they would like to have more training to deal with employees who have depression.

Employers are doing better at identifying depression, but employers or HR should not try to diagnose depression, London explained.

“EAPs have several depression scales and inventories to screen for depression. And we link people to the appropriate level of care and resources, whether it’s an out-patient psychotherapist, a psychiatrist to prescribe meds or if someone needs hospitalization. The EAP is the first line of intervention to get people the care they need,” she said.

Think You or Someone in Your Organization Might be Depressed?

No two people experience clinical depression in the same manner. Symptoms will vary in severity and duration among different people. Here are the common symptoms associated with depression, according to Mental Health America:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
  • Sleeping too little, early morning awakening or sleeping too much.
  • Reduced appetite and/or weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • Restlessness and irritability.
  • Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment (such as headaches, chronic pain or digestive disorders).
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless.
  • Thoughts of suicide or death.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Depression at Work, Managing Smart, October 2012

Treat Depression Along with Chronic Illness for Costs Benefits, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2011

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