Do companies penalize employees who seek treatment for depression? A recent study found that employees and managers answer that question differently.
The study "Depression in the Workplace," sponsored by the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC) and supported by Eli Lilly and Company, found that less than half (41 percent) of employees surveyed believe that they can acknowledge depression and "still get ahead."
Middle managers and benefits managers at those same companies, however, viewed the corporate environment as considerably more supportive toward those who seek treatment for depression.
More than three-quarters of middle managers (76 percent) and 86 percent of benefit managers replied that acknowledgement of depression would not prevent an employee from getting ahead.
In January and February, Public Opinion Strategies, a polling organization, interviewed 443 employees who acknowledged being treated for depression or receiving such treatment within three years, as well as 300 middle managers and 207 benefit managers.
Employees were interviewed online, and managers were interviewed by telephone.
The study found discrepancies between the perceptions of employees and managers in four key areas:
• Eighty-three percent of benefit managers agreed that their company had taken steps to ensure support for those with depression by co-workers and supervisors, but only 37 percent of employees agreed.
• Ninety percent of benefit managers said that their company had taken steps to ensure quality mental health care, but only 57 percent of employees agreed.
• Ninety-five percent of benefit managers said that people can acknowledge they have depression at the company and be treated with respect and compassion, but only 51 percent of employees agreed.
• Ninety-five percent of benefit managers indicated that their company is supportive and flexible in dealing with mental health treatment needs, but only 55 percent of employees thought so.
The message that untreated depression can affect an employer’s bottom line had been absorbed by managers in the companies surveyed. Seventy-eight percent of the benefit managers answered that they believe that "lost productivity" due to depression is more costly than treating employees with depression.
Only a minority of the companies surveyed, however, offer programs that incorporate "best practices" that encourage the treatment of depression.
Those practices include employee screening and education, training for supervisors, access to a broad continuum of mental health care, and time off for therapy appointments.
Only 37 percent of companies conduct depression-education programs for employees.
Although 85 percent of middle managers believe part of their job responsibility is to identify and intervene to help employees with depression, only 18 percent of those managers had received training that would prepare them to do so.
Sixty-seven percent of managers reported that they had never intervened with an employee about potential depression.
In an interview with Psychiatric News, Thomas Carli, M.D., an advisor to the study, emphasized the finding that most employers have come to accept the idea that lost productivity can be more costly than providing treatment for depression.
Carli is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and director of community and corporate programs for the UMDC.
"Employers now believe that the important issue is not the cost of care, but the cost of an unhealthy workforce," he said.
Many companies began their efforts to curtail spiraling health care costs by targeting prevention and improved treatment for illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, that have high direct costs.
Now, according to Carli, they are focusing on early identification and treatment of disorders, like depression, that result in high indirect costs.
The results of the study were reported in major newspapers such as the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune and by trade publications such as Crain’s New York Business and BNA’s Human Resources Report.
News anchor Anderson Cooper interviewed Carli on his CNN show "Anderson Cooper 360°."
Results of the "Depression in the Workplace" study are posted online at www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2004/depressionsurvey.htm. ▪