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

Janet Yellen, when Chair of the US Federal Reserve, warned of an ‘opioid crisis’ impacting the US economy, removing men in their prime from the workforce, sometimes permanently – “Many individuals with less education are finding it difficult to be placed in jobs that are middle income jobs – unfortunately, this is likely tied to the opioid crisis – we’ve even seen an increase in death rates due to despair, suicides, drugs overdoses – apparently, more than 33,000 died this way last year alone”

Dr Sebolelo Seape of the Psychiatry Management Group claims depression is widespread 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 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 are mere excuses for laziness and skiving – they need to ‘get a grip’
  • Worse still, rather than help them ‘get back up to speed’, some managers let many ‘walk out the door’ taking all their knowledge and experience with them – the huge waste costs of developing them 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 those at the very top – for example, António Horta-Osório, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, 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 BoE (Bank of England) now provides all employees with access to an on-site counsellor
  • GS (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 a rarity rather than the rule across all other organisations

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 of shame’ and have most managers sympathise with it instead
  • Better education and training of managers in mental health problems, their causes and effects, and effective ways to deal with them
  • Simple ways to quantify the 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 – it’s one of the biggest costs incurred by any nation and any organisation, public or private, within it

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

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