Managing Workplace Depression and Mental Health

November 20, 2015
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

In the US alone, depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost to employers of $17 to $44 billion.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 19 million American adults will suffer from a depressive illness in any given year. The International Labour Office tells us that over 150 million people worldwide live with chronic depression. Mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorders account for 14% of the burden of disease worldwide.

All this leads to staggering economic and social costs. And evidence is beginning to accumulate linking work stress to depression and other mental health problems.

Depression and stress are associated with a decrease in morale, lower productivity, and workplace safety problems. Cumulative work stress is even a risk factor for coronary heart disease and other stress responses.

Research shows that rates of depression vary by occupation and industry type. Work-related depression can have internal causes, external causes, or some of both. An employee may be predisposed to depression, while job factors have the potential to help or harm.  

Factors that cause stress 

Numerous studies have identified several job stressors associated with depression. These include:

  • Extreme job demands
  • Low job control
  • Lack of support
  • Financial problems
  • Lack of control or feeling trapped in a job role
  • Workplace-related bullying
  • Underlying emotional problems or mental illness

Signs of workplace depression

Employee productivity, morale, and safety can affect your organization’s bottom line. While your organization should not be expected to diagnose or treat depression, stay aware of signs of workplace depression, such as:

  • Withdrawal or passivity
  • A decrease in typical work effectiveness or problem-solving
  • Uncharacteristic procrastination or expression of frustration
  • Persistently sad, anxious, or “empty” mood displayed at work
  • Obvious signs of sleep problems
  • Frequent restlessness or irritability
  • Sudden difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Expressions of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Resources for dealing with depression in the workplace

It’s important to encourage any employees who display symptoms of depression to seek assistance. Offer referral information for employees with symptoms of depression, and:

  • Consult the wealth of resources on our Workplace Bullying Resources and References page.
  • If you’re a CPI Certified Instructor, you can teach our Workplace Bullying and Challenged by Mental Illness at Work Topic Modules to your colleagues.
  • If you're not a Certified Instructor, our Global Professional Instructors can teach these programs to staff in your organization.
  • Provide all employees with information about your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  • If your organization does not offer an EAP, provide information on resources that are available through medical or other employee benefits or community agencies.
  • Offer worksite health promotion programs.

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