Sunday, July 7, 2013

Depression In The Workplace

In Australia alone, more than one million people experience depression, anxiety or disorders through substance abuse each year. One in five people suffer from depression and this is carried into the workplace. Did you know that depression is second only to heart-related illness in Australia?

Around 80% of depression sufferers indicated that they were functionally impaired because of depression. 27% reported serious difficulties at work as well as at home. Only 29% of depression sufferers in Australia sought professional mental assistance and of those with severe depression about 39% sought assistance of any kind.

Depression costs 200 million lost workdays each year and $17 to $44 billion in Australia alone. It is one of the most common of all mental health problems.

Research shows that rates of depression vary by occupation and industry type. Among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 years, the highest rates of workers experiencing a major depressive episode in the past year were found in the personal care and service occupations (10.8%) and the food preparation and serving related occupations (10.3%). Oddly those occupations that experienced the lowest rate of depression were engineering, architecture and surveying (4.3%); life, physical and social science (4.4%); installation, maintenance and repair (4.4%).

In three months alone, depressed employees miss 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of decreased productivity. In a well functioning workplace, the organisation protects and supports mental health and encourages employees to seek help for depression and anxiety for the benefit of the individual as well as the organisation.

What is Depression

Depression is characterised by changes in thinking, mood or behaviour and can affect anyone. Some of the factors affecting depression include genetics, physiology, psychology, gender and the environment. However, in the workforce, it is more complex and is not properly understood. What is understood is that both work and non-work factors cause depression in workplaces.

Several job stressors can contribute to depression in the workplace. These include high job demands, low job control and lack of social support at work. There is a need to understand organisational practices so as to decrease job stress and aspects of roles and their structures that contribute to poor mental health, enabling interventions to be developed to target these risk factors in the workplace. Workplaces have a significant impact on the mental health of staff through job design and workplace culture.

Depression is a real medical and social problem and its effects stretch across the boundaries of work and recreation. The World Health Organisation and the World Bank rank depression as the fourth leading cause of death and disability. It is the leading cause of non-fatal disability. By 2020, given the rising rate among young people, the lack of preventative programs and poor access to treatments, it will be second only to cardiovascular disease.

Many employers realise the importance of staff retention and motivation in creating a harmonious work environment, but in today's climate it is also important to monitor the well being of staff. Depression and anxiety now accounts for approximately one third of all claims for income protection insurance and almost 50% of associated costs.

A lack of awareness and understanding in the workplace leads to difficult situations which may arise from prolonged absence or excessive sick-leave. With the correct awareness and support in place to remove the stigma associated with depression, the expense from both a financial and emotional perspective can potentially be avoided

Depression is more than just a low mood - it's a serious illness. While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time and often without reason. People with depression find it hard to function every day and may be reluctant to participate in activities they once enjoyed.

Are there different types of depression?

Different types of depression often have slightly different symptoms and may require different treatments. The five main types of depression are listed below.

* Major depression - a depressed mood that lasts for at least two weeks. This may also be referred to as clinical depression or unipolar depression.

* Psychotic depression - a depressed mood which includes symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis involves seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations), feeling everyone is against you (paranoia) and having delusions.

* Dysthymia - a less severe depressed mood that lasts for years.

* Mixed depression and anxiety - a combination of symptoms of depression and anxiety.

* Bipolar disorder - (formerly known as manic depressive illness) - involves periods of feeling low (depressed) and high (manic).

Is Depression Common?

Yes. In Australia alone, one million adults and 100,000 young people live with depression each year. On average, one in six people will experience depression in their lifetime - one in five females and one in eight males.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

Although no two people will experience this illness in exactly the same way, there are common signs of depression. In the workplace, a person with depression will start to exhibit any number of the following signs:

Personal changes

* Irritability/hostility
* Withdrawal from, or extreme dependence, on others
* Hopelessness/despair
* Slowness of speech
* Chronic fatigue
* Alcohol/drug abuse

Workplace changes

* Difficulty in making decisions
* Decreased productivity
* Inability to concentrate
* Decline in dependability
* Unusual increase in errors in work
* Being prone to accidents
* Frequent tardiness, increased "sick" days
* Lack of enthusiasm for work

Someone who has been experiencing several of these signs for more than a few weeks should seek help.

It's important to note that you can't always identify the cause of depression nor change troubling circumstances. The most important thing is to recognise the depression and to seek help. Remember, the sooner you get treatment, the greater the chance of a faster recovery.

Workplaces that have better communication and that allow their employees greater flexibility and control have fewer instances of depression.

The Advice, Conciliation, and Arbitration Scheme (Acas) of the UK advises that the way in which jobs are structured has significant impact on the levels of stress and depression in the workforce. Acas suggests a number of measures that all businesses should consider. Employees should be:

* able to see how their output makes a valuable contribution to the organisation.
* given as much variety in the tasks they do, the speed they take to complete the work, their work styles and the place in which they work if possible.
* given regular performance feedback as uncertainty of performance is a major stress factor.
* given ownership of their responsibilities.
* given learning and problem solving opportunities.

All types of people suffer from depression and it is important to note that though it is debilitating, it is not unconquerable. According to Sally Burton, chief executive of UK charity the Shaw Trust "Avoiding recruiting or supporting employees with mental health conditions isn't an option, supporting your workforce is, and will pay dividends in terms of increasing productivity, improving performance and retention, garnering talent and shaping future leaders, helping you to retain a competitive edge."

In 2010 the Shaw Trust carried out a survey investigating attitudes to mental health problems in the workplace. Their findings showed that 42% of employers still underestimated the prevalence of mental health problems in their organisation. On the other hand, 90% of managers stated that they would be happy discussing mental health issues with an employee. This is good as it shows that changes in the workplace could be the key to reversing the epidemic of depressive illness.

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