Depression Takes Toll at Work, Too

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Depression can affect all aspects of a person's life, but a recent analysis shows that even slight signs of the condition can chip away at productive hours at work.

The results not only confirm depression's troubling grasp, they also indicate the need for employers to better accommodate employees and reduce productivity loss. In the United States, approximately 20 million people live with depression, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Previous findings hint that depression affects work performance, but few studies have quantified the effects of the condition on work — the number of sick days and hours people feel impaired at work, for instance.

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Individuals participating in the study were involved in the "Depression Improvement Across Minnesota: Offering a New Direction" program and recently began treatment with antidepressants. Nearly three-fourths of participants were white females, which may make the findings difficult to generalize to other demographic groups. It's unclear whether individuals were receiving therapy as well.

Researchers looked at 771 currently employed participants — most of whom were moderately depressed based on diagnostic standards. They responded to survey questions about their depression and work over a week's time. On average, participants reported losing three hours of work time to health-related conditions associated with depression.

Productivity loss was determined by multiplying the hours actually worked by an individual's percent impairment at work. As the severity of depression increased across participants, so did productivity loss.

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So what do the findings mean for the nine-to-five crowd?

First off, the research highlights the need for greater flexibility for people working full-time. In most cases, individuals living with depression were forced to use sick days to leave work for their symptoms, even if they needed to leave just a few hours per week.

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Employers can cut lost productivity by adding "evidence-based depression management programs" to their work environments, the authors write.

In addition, since the team quantified productivity loss as it relates to scores on a specific questionnaire, it suggests that the document may help clinicians understand patients' levels of impairment at work.

The research was published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

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