A Swedish survey finds that negative opinions regarding depression are more prevalent among managers who are men.

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About 17.3 million people in the United States experienced some form of depression in 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health and data from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. At the time, this figure represented 7.1% of all adults in the country.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that depression affects 264 million people.

In Sweden, mental health issues are increasingly cited as reasons for taking time off, and a new study has investigated the attitudes of managers toward depression, in particular.

The researchers — from the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, and Maastricht University, in the Netherlands — have published their findings in the journal BMC Public Health.

The team discovered that male managers are significantly more likely to view depression negatively than female managers.

While the majority of the managers who participated in the study expressed support for employees dealing with depression, 25% of male managers expressed negative attitudes toward the condition, compared with 12% of females.

Study project manager Monica Bertilsson, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of Gothenburg’s Institute of Medicine, observes:

“We were surprised that the differences between female and male managers persisted — even after we’d controlled, in our statistical analyses, for other factors, like the managers’ training, the type of workplace they were at, how long they’d been managers, and whether they had experience of coworkers with depression.”

The researchers conducted their study via emailed surveys, and it included 2,663 managers — 901 of whom were female and 1,762 of whom were male.

The survey consisted of 12 statements. The respondents were asked to agree or disagree using a 6-point scale, on which 1 meant “strongly disagree” and 6 meant “strongly agree.”

The researchers found that more male than female managers agreed with the following statements:

  • “Staff members with depression are a burden for the workplace.”
  • “Staff members taking antidepressant medication should not be working.”
  • “I would not hire someone whom I knew had been depressed.”

Also, male managers were more likely to disagree with the statement, “I would make temporary changes in the job to help a depressed staff member recover.”

However, male and female managers had similar responses to the statement, “It is stressful to work with staff members who have depression.”

Among all participants, the team found that the higher the managerial position, the higher the frequency of negative opinions about depression.

There was one bright spot in the findings: The researchers discovered that the more experience all managers had with employees with depression, the less likely they were to have negative views of the condition.

Also, as Bertilsson acknowledges, the attitudes expressed on a survey may not reflect actual differential treatment of employees with depression. She explains, “It’s important to point out that this is an attitude survey. We don’t know how male and female managers act in real life.”

The researcher adds: “The study is based on a questionnaire and extensive material, and we’ve taken into account many variables other than gender that might affect the results. But the finding persists, which makes the result robust.”

In Sweden, comprehensive support of employees is a matter of law. The Work Environment Act holds managers responsible for employees’ safety and health.

This is generally understood to mean that employers must promote a working environment free from discrimination and stigma. For those with negative attitudes toward depression, this may be a particular challenge, but it is one they are legally obliged to address.

“Managers with negative views may find it more difficult not only to relate to issues involved in mental health generally,” observes Bertilsson, “but also to provide support for people who may need job modification in the short or long term.”