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How does depression affect your workplace?

3 min read


The latest study on antidepressants and absenteeism is enough to make anyone depressed.

The study, conducted by Thompson Reuters and published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that even when employees suffering from depression are treated with antidepressants, they tend to have longer absences from work and higher short-term disability costs.

I have a history of depression and currently take antidepressants to keep it in check. For years, though, I fought to work through symptoms on my own, fearing that an official diagnosis and history of treatment would follow me around like a dark cloud, casting a shadow on my career and my prospects of getting — and keeping — health insurance.

Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been so afraid, because I could have saved myself a lot of pain and suffering. Still, the findings of this new study make me think that my fear wasn’t totally unfounded. Even as I sit here writing this post, I’m questioning the wisdom of discussing my health issues on this blog that not only goes online for the whole world to read, but is owned and operated by my employer.

Still, I’m writing because this is an important topic, and beyond the bad news in the study, there is good news that employers and employees should note.

The problem is not that employees suffering from depression are bad or unreliable workers, but that antidepressants aren’t a cure-all for this debilitating disease. First, as the study’s authors point out, it often takes time to go through the trial-and-error process of finding the right antidepressant, or combination of medications, to help an individual. Second, as many other studies have found, and this study’s authors say, a combination of medication and therapy is more likely to succeed in treating depression than antidepressants alone.

Both of those points were true for me as I worked to get my depression under control. I was lucky to not have to try too many medications before getting it right, but I did spend several years in therapy. Although I’m not in therapy now, I know that it really helped me, and I would go back if I felt myself slipping back toward depression.

I appreciate the conclusion drawn by Suellen Curkendall, director of outcomes research at Thompson Reuters: “Improved care for workers with depression could help reduce the costs of absenteeism and short-term disability. Employers can help [their employees] by ensuring that employees have access to the care they need. One problem is poor adherence to treatment. Out-of-pocket cost may be a barrier to adherence. Also, patients often need to try more than one antidepressant before they find the one that works best for them. So, continuity of care is important.”

I think the goal for employers needs to be to support their employees and help them gain access to a treatment or combination of treatments that best help them feel better and do better at work. Employees, for their part, need to take advantage of available programs and be willing to put in the time to go to therapy if antidepressants don’t work.

How does depression affect your workplace? What is your company doing to help those who suffer from depression? If you are one of those people, how have you handled fighting depression while working?

Image credit, DNY59 via iStock