Depression costs billions

A study by the LSE – London School of Economics – found that depression costs South Africa a massive R232 billion a year – equivalent to around 6% of its GDP

This is due to lost productivity caused by absence from work or attending work whilst ill

Dr Sebolelo Seape of the Psychiatry Management Group claims depression is widespread there with some 10% of the population suffering from it at any one time

She says problems resulting from depression include:

  • Memory loss
  • Procrastination
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Fear and panic

Add such problems to work-related stresses and one can soon see why an individual’s productivity would be reduced

But most employees keep on working when depressed and try to hide the fact – they fear losing their job or being thought weak by colleagues – and they don’t understand what’s happening to them

Some take occasional days off and just sit at home, but that’s no remedy

First, they must learn to realise they’re ill and seek professional medical help – they should also feel confident enough to discuss possible changes to their work or flexitime working if a relationship has broken down at home

They should remember they were useful, wanted and well before becoming ill, and so want and expect to become so again

And, if work is at the root of the problem, bosses, especially their immediate bosses, should recognise they’re often responsible for employees becoming depressed – and so be made accountable

At present, this is far from the norm

For example, a survey by SADAG – South African Depression and Anxiety Group – found that, whilst some 60% of employees with depression disclose their problem to their managers, 70% receive ‘negative responses or no response at all’

The reason is most people, employees and managers, have little understanding of depression and its impact on work:

  • Sufferers are deemed to be whingers or malingerers – their symptoms mere excuses for laziness and skiving – they need to ‘get a grip’
  • Worse still, rather than help get them ‘back up to speed’, some managers let many ‘walk out the door’ taking all their knowledge and experience with them – the waste costs of developing to that stage and then replacing them are never calculated

The fact is depression is a seriously disabling affliction – a modern illness that’s growing rapidly which has already reached epidemic proportions – yet there continues to be a stigma attached to it which prevents acceptance of its existence or discussion of remedies

And it can affect employees at all levels in all types of jobs, including at the very top – for example, António Horta-Osório, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, has bravely admitted that he had to take months off because of “extreme fatigue”

Hence, some major organisations have taken some steps to counter the problem viz:

  • The Bank of England now provides employees with access to an on-site counsellor
  • Goldman Sachs offer psychotherapy and ‘crisis management’ to any employee who feels on the verge of a mental breakdown
  • Deloittes has set up a network of ‘mental health champions’ and offers training programmes to help managers identify mental health problems

But the BoE and GS action seems more token than the radical needed – and all of it is a rarity rather than the rule

What’s needed at corporate level are:

  • Many more high-profile revelations of people who have suffered and recovered from depression, to bring the illness out of the shadows and have most managers sympathise with depression sufferers rather than look down on them
  • Better education and training of managers in mental health problems, their causes and effects, and ways to prevent and cure them
  • Methods for managers to quantify the huge penalty costs involved if sufferers are left untreated

At national level, mirroring the LSE study above, depression costs the UK economy an estimated £70 – 100bn annually i.e. some 4.5% of GDP

Depression costs are thus one of the major costs incurred by any nation and any organisation, public or private, within it

Government ministers and corporate managers thus have a duty to treat them very seriously




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