The workplace can become an important venue for activities aimed at improving the well-being of adults. Workplace wellness programs can identify and connect at-risk individuals to treatment and can help people reduce and manage stress. By addressing mental health issues in the workplace, employers can reduce medical costs for their companies and their employees.
Nearly 5% of the US working-age population suffers from depression, a relapsing illness that causes significant functional limitation and social disability.1 Although new and effective treatments are available, control of the disorder is hampered by underdiagnosis, poor adherence to prescribed regimens, and suboptimal delivery of care; in addition, affected patients frequently have other mental disorders.1
Mental health is an important factor in the overall well-being of employees, and poor mental health and workplace stressors can contribute to a range of physical ailments, including hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.2 Additionally, poor mental health can lead to burnout among employees, severely impacting their ability to contribute meaningfully to both their personal and professional lives.2
Mental illnesses such as depression are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment.1 In three population-based cross-sectional studies, unemployment was higher in the depressed group than in the non-depressed group.1 Two population-based longitudinal studies compared employed depressed individuals with similarly employed healthy controls; depression was associated with a 20% to 40% higher chance of being unemployed.1
Depression plays a role in job performance. Two studies reported that patients with major depression had higher rates of productivity loss at work than did non-depressed controls. It showed that depressed patients experienced a productivity loss of approximately 10.5% versus 2.5% productivity loss in non-depressed patients.1 Another analysis showed that job deficits decreased when depression symptoms improved; however, this study also showed that employees with clinically significant improvement in depression continued to exhibit significantly greater performance decline than healthy controls did, even after an 18-month follow-up.1
Poor performance at work accounts for a significant portion of the burden of mental illness in the workplace. Studies estimate that major depression is associated with an 11% decrease in productivity.3 There are many ways that mental disorders can reduce work productivity. They can impair workers' social participation, understanding, comprehension and communication, and everyday function.3 Depression can limit physical labor performance an average of 20% of the time and emotional interpersonal performance an average of 35% of the time.3
Three studies estimated the annual economic impact of depression in the United States. Using data from several national surveys, the total economic burden of depression in the United States exceeded $83 billion in 2000.1 Six workplace studies estimated total employer costs of depressed workers. It was estimated to cost more than $8500 per year per depressed employee.1
Employers need to promote awareness about the importance of mental health and stress management. Steps to take should include4:
• Make depression self-assessment tools available.
• Offer mental health services for all employees.
• Provide educational material on the signs and symptoms of depression.
• Hold workshops about depression and management skills.
• Provide managers with training to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression in team members and encourage them to seek help from qualified mental health professionals.
• Give employees opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress.
Recognizing any mental health experiences is the first step to supporting good mental health in the workplace. All employees benefit when companies support and promote the mental health of those who are struggling or are simply not doing well. We can redefine mental health by focusing on solutions that help employees grow personally and professionally. With understanding, creativity, and support, companies can provide the best mental health programs for their employees.
1. Lerner D, Henke RM. What does research tell us about depression, job performance, and work productivity?. J Occup Environ Med. 2008;50(4):401-410. doi:10.1097/JOM.0b013e31816bae50
2. Rajgopal T. Mental well-being at the workplace. Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2010;14(3):63-65. doi:10.4103/0019-5278.75691
3. Dewa CS, Thompson AH, Jacobs P. The association of treatment of depressive episodes and work productivity. Can J Psychiatry. 2011;56(12):743-750. doi:10.1177/070674371105601206
4. Mental Health in the Workplace. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed April 10, 2019. Accessed September 25, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html