Helping Workers With Depression

October 5, 2007
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Nobody gets the sniffles because of depression. Nobody wears a cast or has an operation to cure it. Get-well cards aren’t usually circulated at the office for a co-worker out with depression.

Yet research shows that depression costs businesses billions in lost productivity in the U.S.: $43.7 billion in absenteeism, lost productivity and treatment costs, according to the Mental Health America Web site. Another study estimated that as many as 2.9 million working people suffered from depression in 2003, and 10 times that many adults report they’ve had an episode of major depression at some point during their lives.

“From an employer’s standpoint, the main issues are absenteeism, but also ‘presenteeism’: People have symptoms of depression that are either not being treated at all or are not being treated adequately, so they are much less productive than they otherwise would be,” said Dr. Denise Gribbin, chief medical officer at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

Pine Rest is once again hosting National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 11 at eight Pine Rest clinics from Traverse City to Kalamazoo. The questionnaire attendees fill out can help identify those who may be feeling persistently sad, hopeless or worthless, or who are changing their sleeping or eating patterns — all signs of depression.

Depression can be a touchy situation in the workplace, Gribbin said. The signs may be as subtle as difficulty in concentrating or a decrease in enthusiasm, she said. And suggesting that someone may need help can make co-workers and employers feel like they are butting in where they may not be wanted.

In some situations, mental health conditions such as depression may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Warner Norcross & Judd lawyer Karen VenderWerff. It depends on whether the illness is hindering a major life skill, such as the ability to care for oneself.

“People may have depression and still be functional,” VenderWerff said. “It’s a case where the law can go both ways.”

The federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has issued special guidelines regarding the ADA and psychiatric disabilities, she said. Find the document at: www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/psych.htm

“You almost have to intervene if it’s affected their ability to work,” Gribbin said. “Show respect but be able to approach the person to offer encouragement. Maybe make an extra effort to find the good thing they’re able to do.”

For organizations that have access to an employee assistance program, suggesting an appointment there may help, she said.

“It’s a hard thing to do, obviously,” she said. “Really focus on the facts and offer a non-judgmental atmosphere.” HQX

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