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Ask the Expert

Depression in the Workplace
By Andrea Stidsen, LICSW, CEAP, Director, Partners Employee Assistance Program

Depression is a treatable illness that affects a person’s thinking, behavior, mood and physical well-being. Many depressed individuals do not realize they are ill and minimize the impact on themselves or others. Yet, more than 80% of depressed workers can be successfully treated with medication and/or short-term therapy.

Q  What is the impact of depression on the workplace?

A  Depression has a huge effect on the workplace:
One study in the U.S. found that over a 12-month period, at least 2.9 million working-age  individuals were depressed, with nearly 50 percent in the U.S. labor force. (Psychiatric Services 55:29-34, January 2004.)
The cost to U.S. workplaces is estimated to be $44 billion annually in lost productivity. (JAMA, June 18, 2003 - Vol. 289 No. 23 pp 3135-3144.)

  • Depression is among the top three behavioral health problems reported by employees, with 20% of the workforce experiencing mild to major depression annually. (Tanouye, Elyse. “Mental Illness: A Rising Workplace Cost;” Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2001, p. B1.)

What are some indicators of a depressed employee?

A  Employees who are depressed may display one or more of the following symptoms at work:

  • Tearfulness, moodiness;
  • Decreased concentration, confusion;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Irritability, hostility or lack of cooperation;
  • Withdrawal from others;
  • Feelings of hopelessness;
  • Loss of self-confidence;
  • Slower speech, frequent complaints of fatigue.

How can depression affect work performance?

A  Depression may cause:

  • Tardiness or absenteeism;
  • Difficulty making decisions; decreased job productivity; lack of follow-through;
  • Confusion; difficulty learning new tasks;
  • Slower speech; complaints of fatigue;
  • Accidents; workplace injuries;
  • Irregular, inconsistent work patterns;
  • Poor interpersonal relationships.

Q   How can we help depressed employees at work?

A   Many employees are more reluctant to come forward with a mental health illness than with a physical illness. Supervisors and Managers can help by:

  • Learning the signs of depression;
  • Recognizing when work performance issues may be related to depression or another mental health problem;
  • Supporting employees who may need to take a short leave or adjust their schedules to receive treatment.
  • Suggesting the employees contact the EAP for assessment and referral to appropriate treatment. For confidential help, employees can call 1-866-724-4EAP. 
  • Encouraging employees to take advantage of the confidential, free online mental health self-assessment tool at


For more information or to discuss employee or workplace concerns please contact Partners Employee Assistance Program at 1-866-724-4EAP.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

This content was last modified on: 08/27/2008

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