|Depression in the Workplace|
In the current recession, employees are more stressed out and at risk for depression than ever. In addition, untreated depression is common (10% of people) and leads to increased absenteeism, disability, and medical costs for companies.
Julie, a wife and mother to two-year-old Piper and nine-month-old Cate, works for Ernst & Young. Her ongoing battle with depression began back in 1990, when she was a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin. "It was my first time away from home and I was experiencing all the classic symptoms of depression," Julie remembers. "I was filled with anxiety. I had no appetite and lost 15 pounds. I couldn't concentrate. Everything seemed hopeless. This went on for several months and I had no idea what was wrong with me."
A friend encouraged Julie to go to the health center. But in 1990, depression was not well recognized or understood. The university psychologist said Julie was simply homesick. After dropping out of school, she was diagnosed with depression. She got well with medication, but when she stopped her medication she became ill again and dropped out of school.
Facing The Truth
Depression at Work
Recently, Julie started helping Families for Depression Awareness (FFDA) as a volunteer. When FFDA suggested that she tell her story to employees at E&Y, she agreed. Julie and FFDA worked together to develop a story for the Daily Connection, an Ernst & Young email newsletter that goes out to several thousand employees. As a result, Julie received many emails from associates who have experienced depression personally or who have loved ones who have depression. Men, women, partners, associate directors, managers, an operations coordinator and others shared their stories with her. "I thanked them for their supportive emails and open communication," says Julie.
"I'm at peace with it now," Julie says about going public. "It is just more important to get the word out than to be embarrassed."
"If it were cancer or any other medical condition, everyone would talk about it and we would get the support we need," Julie says. "With depression, though, so many people suffer alone for no reason. It's just not treated like other illnesses. Without awareness, depression creates a vicious cycle. You feel bad. You think you are the only one. You don't talk about it. You feel worse. Depression is extremely treatable in most people. Even those with treatment-resistant depression can be helped to some degree. There is just no reason for people to suffer in silence anymore."
How to help Employees
A good mental health program that will help employers reduce costs and improve productivity includes training for employees and managers, an ongoing employee communications program to remind employees what depression is and how to get help, screening for depression online, increased mental health benefits, and measurements of how well the program works. Although many companies have employee assistance programs (EAP) to help employees with depression, these types of programs typically only have a 5% utilization rate. By adding inexpensive programs, like training, and employee communication, employers can dramatically improve use of EAPs and get their employees the help they need.