According to figures by the London School of Economics and Social Policy (LSE), depression costs businesses an estimated £77 billion a year in absenteeism and lost productivity.
Researchers urge employers to "take a more proactive approach" to help employees with depression in the new report published in the electronic journal PLOS ONE.
30 million people in Europe struggle with depression, yet many workplaces seriously underestimate the impact of the disease, according to the report.
Despite the increased publicity around mental health, a global survey of people with a major depressive disorder found many chose to hide their illness.
71% of those who responded to the survey preferred to hide their depression from others in the workplace, and 47% anticipated discrimination in finding or keeping a job due to their diagnosis
500 UK employers were surveyed to evaluate whether they believed employees suffering from stress and depression could still work effectively despite their illness. Over 50% of employers believed that staff with depression could remain working, unaffected. This contradicts new data from a study of 7000 people that states the opposite.
A total of 7065 employees and managers were recruited for the study from seven European countries: the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Turkey and Denmark.
LSE’s Professor Martin Knapp and Dr Sara Evans-Lacko from King’s College analysed a large cross-European survey which made interesting findings regarding depression in the workplace.
Major findings included:
- 20-55 % of depressed employees in Europe have to take time off work due to the illness
- Female, divorced, part-time workers are more likely to suffer from depression
- University-educated professionals are less likely to take time off work when depressed. If they do take time off, they are less likely to tell their employer why
- 20% of employed people report having a previous diagnosis of depression
- Italians are less likely to reveal a prior diagnosis of depression compared to people in the UK and Turkey
- Managers in Denmark are more sympathetic towards depressed employees and less likely to discriminate against them compared to their European counterparts
- Managers in France and Spain are the most likely to recommend that the employee seek help from a healthcare professional for their depression
The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that depression will become a leading cause of disability with huge consequences for the economy and individual wellbeing.
Lead researcher, Professor Knapp said; “Despite a lot of publicity surrounding mental illness, it is worrying to see that there is still a major stigma associated with depression and many employers are not dealing with it adequately.”
How to help
Offering flexible working hours and time off is, according to the report, not the best strategy - especially when offered in isolation. Flexible working arrangements do not promote the social inclusion which proves so valuable in a depressed person's recovery.
Managers offering direct help is proposed as the best method of supporting employees with depression.
The report says that managers who avoid discussing an employee's depression are only adding to the general ignorance of mental illness which helps neither the company, nor the staff member.
Co-author and researcher, Dr Evans-Lacko told the LSE,
“Managers have an important role to play by creating supportive working environments that promote social acceptance. By doing so, their employees will feel more secure discussing any potential mental health issues.”
Importance of Social and Cultural Factors for Attitudes, Disclosure and Time off Work for Depression: Findings from a Seven Country European Study on Depression in the Workplace: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091053