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How Depression Impacts the Workplace

Undiagnosed depression can have a huge impact on self-confidence, productivity, irritability, absenteeism and more.

Written by Rachel Unger

01 Someone with undiagnosed depression may not recognize how ill they are. They may struggle to cope with everyday workplace tasks and seem fatigued, anxious, tearful, or irritable.

02 Peer support is crucial for someone who is struggling with depression. If you detect signs that someone at work is depressed, let them know that you’re there to talk.

03 If you are an employer, there are a number of ways to provide benefits for depression at work. Adding support services has been shown to improve productivity with a 300% return on investment in just a two-year period.

The Depressed Brain

Imagine that it’s Monday morning and you’ve woken up three hours early. You slept terribly and are lying in bed thinking about how you need to get up, brush your teeth and get dressed. You’ll have to shower because you haven’t showered since Saturday (was it Friday?). Then you’ll have to eat something even though you have no appetite. You’d call in sick, but you did that last week. Someone with depression might struggle with motivation to the point where simply getting out of bed feels like an impossible task. Clinical depression ranks as a leading cause of disability in the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in 10 American adults will be affected by a depression-related illness each year.

How to Recognize Depression

Someone with undiagnosed depression may not recognize how ill they are. They may struggle to cope with everyday workplace tasks and seem fatigued, anxious, tearful, or irritable. They might be behind in their work or seem withdrawn. Anxiety and other medical issues often accompany depression. Dysregulation in sleep, appetite, and mood impacts cognitive ability and executive functioning, making normal work, home and social activities more difficult. Concentration, memory, and judgment are impaired when someone is depressed.

The Economic Impact

Depression costs U.S. employers more than an estimated $210 billion per year. When someone comes to work while suffering from a medical problem, it inhibits their performance on the job and negatively impacts productivity and quality of work. Presenteeism can result in lost workdays and expensive long- and short-term disability costs. The longer employees are on leave for mental health issues, the less likely they are to return to work. They are also more likely to retire early or quit their jobs.

Mental Health America reports that an estimated eight out of 10 people respond to treatment for depression. Depression screening and enhanced depression care in the workplace can decrease symptoms and increase job retention and productivity. A treatment period as short as eight weeks has been shown to reduce clinical symptoms of depression and absenteeism, resulting in average savings of $7508 per employee per year.

Stigma remains a significant barrier for individuals seeking help for depression. Many individuals with depression may self-isolate rather than reach out for support. A study found that 62 percent of U.S. workers knew how to use company resources for depression care, but only 29 percent felt comfortable discussing the issue with their supervisor.

It can be difficult to know what to say to someone when they’re feeling low, but peer support is crucial for someone who is struggling with depression. If you detect signs that someone at work is depressed, let them know that you’re there to talk to them about what they’re going through, that you want to help, and that you care about their well-being. FindYourWords.org offers a number of ways to talk to someone who seems depressed.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 10 American adults will be affected by a depression-related illness each year.

If you are a manager working with an employee who is depressed, it is important to know that they might need to take more time off beyond their allotted sick leave so that they have time to attend therapy and doctor’s appointments. An employee may need encouragement to take the first step to discuss treatment options with a doctor or mental health professional. They could need help navigating their options for seeking care or reaching out to human resources.

If you are an employer, there are a number of ways to provide benefits for depression at work. Adding support services has been shown to improve productivity with a 300% return on investment in just a two-year period. Examples of such policies include insurance benefits for mental health care, depression recognition screenings, employee assistance programs, and training for managers. In addition, flexible work arrangements and an open, relaxed environment can improve employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Depression in the workplace is frequently overlooked as a major threat to the wellbeing of workers and businesses. By increasing awareness of this issue, employers can work towards the creation of a stigma-free environment where people feel safe asking for help and where recovery is possible.

About the author

Rachel Unger is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. She's passionate about raising mental health awareness and promoting fairness in the workplace.

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