One in every ten employees in Europe has taken time off work because they have been affected by depression, says a new survey conducted by the European Depression Association (EDA).

The authors added that for each depressive episode, 36 working days were lost. The problem of “depression and the workplace” has not yet prompted nearly one third of all managers to set up support services or procedures to deal with depressive employees. Nearly half of all managers are calling for better policies and legislation to protect employees.

Depression in the workplace can have several different causes, some of which originate at work. Finish researchers published a study in 2009 in Occupational and Environmental Medicine which found that an employee’s risk of developing depression is higher in workplaces with poor team spirit.

MEP (Member of the European Parliament), Stephen Hughes said:

“Depression in the workplace is an employment and societal challenge that is causing serious damage and which requires attention and action from the European Union. The inclusion of depression in the workplace in the new European Commission Strategy for Health and Safety at Work, backed up in the coming two years with legislative action, would represent excellent progress towards protecting Europe’s workers more effectively and ultimately contributing to economic and social prosperity.”

Over 30 million Europeans will be diagnosed with depression during their lifetimes, says the report. Depression is the largest mental health challenge for working age people in Europe.

The IDEA survey, titled “Impact of Depression in the Workplace in Europe Audit”, questioned over 7,000 people in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Germany, and Denmark.

The authors found that:

  • Out of the 7,000 people surveyed, 20% had reported having had a diagnosis of depression at some time
  • 26% of British employees have been diagnosed with depression at some point (the highest percentage)
  • Italy had the fewest employees who had been diagnosed with depression at some point – 12%
  • 61% of German employees who had been diagnosed with depression took time off work because of their mental state
  • 60% of Danish workers diagnosed with depression took time off work
  • 58% of British employees diagnosed with depression took time off work
  • Turkish workers were the least likely to take time off work after a diagnosis of depression, just 25% of them

Depression was estimated to have cost the European Union economy approximately €92 billion in 2010. Over half of the costs were made up by absenteeism and presenteeism caused by depression. Presenteeism refers to being present at the workplace while unwell.

In 2010, British and German workers took 41 days off work after receiving a diagnosis of depression. Italian employees took 23 days off, the lowest number.

Even though absenteeism caused by depression is common, only one-quarter of employees with depression told their employers or bosses about their problem. One third of employees who had been diagnosed with depression thought that if they told their bosses, their jobs might become insecure, especially in the current economic climate.

Experts say that the cognitive symptoms related to depression are present 94% of the time during a bout of depression, and they can significantly impair the employees’ ability to function properly. Examples of cognitive deficits include forgetfulness, indecisiveness and problems concentrating.

The Journal of Environmental and Occupational Medicine published several studies in 2008 showing that depression in the workplace is a much more serious problem than employers realize.

When asked to identify depressive symptoms, 88% of respondents mentioned sadness or a low mood. While only 57% mentioned problems with concentration, 44% indecisiveness and 33% forgetfulness.

Nearly one in three managers who responded to the survey said they had no formal support in place to assist them when having to deal with a depressed employee. 44% of German managers said there was no support, the highest percentage in Europe. Lack of support was lowest in Turkey, at 10%.

55% of managers in the UK said that they would receive support from their Human Resources department if one of their staff had depressive symptoms or a diagnosis of depression. In Turkey, on the other hand, 79% of managers said they would get support from a specialized mental health professional.

When asked what is most important to support depressive employees, they all cited extra counseling services and new legislation and policies.

Dr Vincenzo Costigliola, President of the European Depression Association said:

“The results of the IDEA survey show that much needs to be done in raising awareness and supporting employees and employers in recognising and managing depression in the workplace. We ask policymakers to consider the impact of depression on the workforce and charge them with addressing depression and workers and workplace safety.”

  • Depression is common condition which can be life-threatening. It affects hundreds of millions of people globally
  • Eleven per cent of European Union citizens will be diagnosed with depression during their lifetimes
  • By 2030, depression will become the major cause of disability around the world
  • The socioeconomic costs of depression are considerable. With over 30 million people affected in the EU (European Union) in 2010, the costs of depression in the region were estimated at €92 billion
  • €54 billion of the €92 billion costs come from sick leave, early retirement and some other examples of lost work productivity
  • The cognitive symptoms of depression undermine the patient’s quality of life significantly and affect their ability to function properly at work as well as socially
  • Typically, depressive symptoms persist during a bout of depression 94% of the time. The main symptoms – concentration difficulties, forgetfulness and indecision – are frequently overlooked and therefore not targeted for treatment

Depression is a worldwide problem. It is a myth to think that it is a condition that only affects people in Western societies and nowhere else. Depression and anxiety exist in every area and society in today’s world, according to a team of researchers from The University of Queensland, Australia.

Written by Christian Nordqvist