Depression & Work

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Sadness is a normal human reaction to traumatic life events that can occur in the regular course of life. When sadness hangs around longer than just a few weeks and begins to cause problems in our social or work life, it can likely be considered depression. Depression is recognized as a disorder that can present itself after the experience of a traumatic event. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in our brain that prevents us from feeling happiness and joy, which is what makes it a clinical disorder and typically one that needs clinical attention. With prevalence rates of mental illness and substance use disorders increasing, researchers have data that strongly connect it to a loss of productivity in the work force. According to a 2017 Willis Towers Watson Survey, on average 57% of employers plan to increase their focus on supporting mental and behavioral health through 2020.

On average 30% to 50% of all adults will experience a mental illness at some time in their life. Anxiety and depression are among the most common forms of mental illness in the United States. Studies show that when an employee struggles with mental illness, they are more likely to struggle with physical health problems, absenteeism, staff cohesion, and underperformance. It is estimated that on average, $1 trillion are lost each year in productivity due to mental health related problems which can be attributed to sick days, issues with concentration, and hostile work environments.

Many of us have experienced a few symptoms of depression throughout our lives due to situational circumstances. For example when a loved one passes away, it is normal to feel sad, struggle with sleep and appetite, and have problems focusing at work. This example would not necessarily meet criteria for clinical depression. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5 (DSM 5) identifies clinical depression as at least 5 symptoms of depression that cause problems in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning. Symptoms of depression are identified as depressed mood, lack of interest in activities or hobbies, significant weight loss or weight gain, problems with sleep, restlessness or being slowed down, having little energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, inability to concentrate, and/or thoughts of death or suicide. If you can identify with some of these symptoms, but they do not cause issues in social or work life you may not meet criteria for clinical depression. Getting treatment is most important when depressive symptoms start to interfere with an individual’s ability to complete household chores, complete tasks at work, or if symptoms are causing problems in relationships, such as frequent arguments with a significant other or peers.

The important thing to remember is that depression is a treatable disease. Seeking out a psychologist, therapist or school counselor is one way of reaching out for assistance, while connecting with organizations that support those with mental health problems is another. Some employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which most commonly provide time limited therapeutic services to employees. This can be an excellent place to start when looking for services, but if your organization does not offer an EAP, you should look elsewhere for private or public health organizations that accept your insurance plan. If you live in rural Indiana, you likely struggle with limited resources. Telemed and telepsych services are becoming more popular in rural communities to help expand mental health resources. This technology is still up and coming but does allow health professionals to assess consumers from a video monitor, almost entirely removing the obstacle of geographical access in these rural communities. The bottom line is that resources are increasing and early identification of clinical depression is making recovery possible for many more people. As with any disorder increasing quality of life is the number one goal. In the case of depression, treatments will not only dramatically improve one’s experiences of happiness and joy but also increase productivity and job satisfaction even further enhancing quality of life.



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