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As a supervisor, you may notice that some employees seem less productive and reliable than usual — they may often call in sick or arrive late to work, have more accidents, or just seem less interested in work. These individuals may be suffering from a very common illness called clinical depression.
Everyone gets the blues or feels sad from time to time. However, if a person experiences these emotions intensely for two weeks or longer, it may signal clinical depression, a condition that requires treatment. A depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.
Untreated depression is costly. Estimates of the total cost of depression to the nation in 1990 range from $30 -$44 billion. Of the $44 billion figure, depression accounts for close to $12 billion in lost workdays each year. Additionally, more than $11 billion in other costs accrue from decreased productivity due to symptoms that sap energy, affect work habits, and cause problems with concentration, memory, and decision-making. Costs escalate further if a worker’s untreated depression contributes to alcoholism or drug abuse.
There is, however, good news. More than 80% of depressed people can be treated quickly and effectively. The key is to recognize the symptoms of depression early and to receive appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, nearly two out of three people with depression do not receive the treatment they need.
Today many companies are helping employees with depression by providing training on depressive illnesses for supervisors, employee assistance, and occupational health personnel. Employers are also making appropriate treatment available through employee assistance programs and through company-sponsored health benefits. Such efforts are contributing to significant reductions in lost time and job-related accidents, as well as marked increases in productivity.
“John had been feeling depressed for weeks though he didn’t know why. He had lost his appetite and felt tired all the time. It wasn’t until he couldn’t get out of bed any more that his wife took him to a health professional for treatment. He soon showed improvement and was able to return to work.”
“Mary couldn’t sleep at night and had trouble staying awake and concentrating at work during the day. After visiting the doctor and being put on medication for depression, she found that her symptoms disappeared and her work and social life improved.”
Symptoms of Depression may include:
In the workplace, symptoms of Depression often may be recognized by:
If five or more of the symptoms of depression persist for more than two weeks, or are interfering with work or family life, a thorough diagnosis is needed. This should include a complete physical checkup and history of family health problems as well as an evaluation of possible symptoms of depression.
The first step to getting appropriate treatment for depression is a physical examination by a physician. Certain medications as well as some medical conditions such as a viral infection can cause the same symptoms as depression, and the physician should rule out these possibilities through examination, interview, and lab tests. If a physical cause for the depression is ruled out, a psychological evaluation should be done, by the physician or by referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist.
A good diagnostic evaluation will include a complete history of symptoms, i.e., when they started, how long they have lasted, how severe they are, whether the patient had them before and, if so, whether the symptoms were treated and what treatment was given. The doctor should ask about alcohol and drug use, and if the patient has thoughts about death or suicide. Further, a history should include questions about whether other family members have had a depressive illness and, if treated, what treatments they may have received and which were effective.
Depression can affect a worker’s productivity, judgment, ability to work with others, and overall job performance. The inability to concentrate fully or make decisions may lead to costly mistakes or accidents. In addition, it has been shown that depressed individuals have high rates of absenteeism and are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, resulting in other problems on and off the job.
Unfortunately, many depressed people suffer needlessly because they feel embarrassed, fear being perceived as weak, or do not recognize depression as a treatable illness.
As a supervisor, you can:
“I’m concerned that recently you’ve been late to work often and aren’t meeting your performance objectives. I’d like to see you get back on track. I don’t know whether this is the case with you, but if personal issues are affecting your work, you can speak confidentially to one of our employee assistance counselors. The service is set up to help employees.”
“Our conversation today and appointments with the counselor will be kept confidential. Whether or not you contact this service, you will still be expected to meet your performance goals.”
Remember that severe depression may be life threatening to the employee. If an employee makes comments like “life is not worth living” or “people would be better off without me,” take the threats seriously. Immediately call an EAP counselor or other healthcare specialist and seek advice on how to handle the situation.
Treatment choice will depend on the outcome of the evaluation. There are a variety of antidepressant medications and psychotherapies that can be used to treat depressive disorders. Some people with milder forms may do well with psychotherapy alone. People with moderate to severe depression most often benefit from antidepressants. Most do best with combined treatment: medication to gain relatively quick symptom relief and psychotherapy to learn more effective ways to deal with life’s problems.
As with many illnesses, the earlier treatment begins, the more effective and the greater the likelihood of preventing serious recurrences.
Rimrock Foundation has four newly licensed Crisis Stabilization beds available for patients who may need a short-term stay for the purpose of stabilizing them on prescribed medications or who may need a safe place with medical monitoring and evaluation but who do not require the full services of an acute psychiatric facility. These beds serve as an alternative to hospitalization and may be accessed by referral from the patient’s physician, case manager or therapist. Call our Crisis Program Coordinator for more information or to make a referral.
For further information on Rimrock Foundation’s treatment of Depression, call Jamie Hixson, Admissions Supervisor at 1-800-227-3953 or 1-406-248-3175, or visit our website at rimrock.org. For more educational information on Clinical Depression, contact the Rimrock Foundation Library at 1-800-227-3953 or 1-406-248-3175.