How Does Depression Impact the Workplace?

Employers are paying more attention to the mental well-being of their workforce due to increased awareness of its costliness. Depression is estimated to set companies back an incredible $44 billion annually in lost productivity, with half of those suffering from depression going untreated. Fortunately, when provided with effective care and treatment plans, individuals can recover from depression. The solution lies in helping employees access the appropriate help they need.

Myths and Facts About Depression

Depression won’t affect me:

  • Though you may not experience depression yourself, the probability is high that someone close to you does. In actuality, over 17 million American adults have been diagnosed with this condition, yet less than half seek treatment for it. Depression has proven to be more prevalent than initially perceived and should not go unnoticed or unaddressed by anyone.

Depression is like sadness, and people can get over it just as quickly:

  • Contrary to popular belief, sadness is not equivalent to depression. Depression is a serious mental health condition that can manifest itself in an array of symptoms, such as intense sadness, loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, and sleeping problems. This should be addressed with professional help and support so that those suffering may lead happy lives.

People’s genetics cause depression:

  • Depression can arise from a variety of sources, including biological elements, life experiences and history, personality traits, and environmental influences.

People with depression cannot function in high-stress jobs or situations:

  • People with depression work in a variety of industries and have secured positions ranging from entry-level to executive roles. The effects of depression on someone’s job performance will be unique, as there is no single solution that works for everyone.

You can never recover from depression:

  • With an effective treatment regimen composed of medication and/or psychotherapy, people with depression can improve tremendously. The earlier the intervention is provided in one’s care journey, the more successful it will be.

What Is Depression?

Depression is more than a short-term “bad day.” It can be serious and have an enduring impact on how someone feels, thinks, and acts. This often leads to reduced efficiency in both their personal life as well as at work.

Depression is identified when anyone experiences these symptoms for greater than two weeks:

  • Sadness
  • Apathy toward activities that once brought joy and delight
  • Struggling to focus and make decisions
  • A shift in hunger levels, excessive eating, or insufficient food intake
  • Struggling to sleep
  • Fatigue or being in a constant state of exhaustion
  • Symptoms of restlessness slowed movements or even slurred speech
  • Profound feelings of inadequacy and guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideating self-harm


As many as 16 million Americans, comprising around 7% of the general population, suffer from depressionand anxiiety. Although they can surface at any age, these mental health conditions frequently manifests during individuals’ late teens to mid-20s. Women are more prone than men to experience this type of distress. However, even those who seem outwardly content may still be susceptible to depressive symptoms.

How Does Depression Impact the Workplace?

Allowing depression to go untreated can take a toll on professional performance, manifesting in both presenteeism (employees being physically at work but not engaged) and absenteeism in the form of frequent days off. Furthermore, it could potentially affect multiple areas, including focus levels, decision-making processes, time management techniques, and task completion capabilities, as well as social interactions and communication skills.

Thankfully though, early diagnosis and treatment of depression and other mental health conditions often lead to less severe symptoms that interfere far less with everyday life. Companies can make a significant difference in recognizing early signs of depression and mental illness, as well as providing access to necessary care. The long-term benefits they will gain from such an investment are invaluable.

Tips for Employers


Equip employees and managers with knowledge about mental health issues, particularly depression. It is still a delicate issue that many people do not feel comfortable discussing openly, so it’s important to educate supervisors and workers on how to begin the conversation when they are worried about an employee. Incorporate content related to depression into all of your company communication strategies, from newsletters, intranets, emails, or other platforms used regularly by staff. By developing comprehensive guidance around mental well-being in the workplace, you will be able to promote healthy discussion while reducing the stigma associated with this condition.

Consider an initiative that brings a discussion about depression out in the open and encourages employees to seek help when needed.

  • Draw attention to the debilitating repercussions of depression in the workplace and its damaging impact on productivity
  • Encourage early detection of symptoms to ensure proper treatment and care
  • Dispel the negative connotations that come with mental health issues and normalize conversations about well-being


As employers continue to foster an environment that is open and accepting of employee mental health issues, the stigma associated with these conditions will gradually fade away. This encourages employees to reach out for help if they are struggling, allowing them to receive the care they need in a timely manner. As we look to create an awareness of depression in the workplace, here is some helpful information for both employees and managers:

What Depression Feels Like

  • Deep seeded emotions of sadness
  • Lost enthusiasm for work or social engagements
  • Mental fog, making it hard to focus
  • Sluggish thoughts and disorganization
  • Having difficulty remembering and keeping track of things
  • Struggling with indecision
  • Struggling to sleep or sleeping more than your body requires
  • Unwarranted feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Unnecessary energy drain or heightened exhaustion
  • Emotions ranging from agitation to profound fear
  • Major fluctuations in appetite and weight

What Depression Looks Like in Co-Workers

  • Withdrawal or isolation from a team
  • Indifference toward their job
  • Procrastination, struggling with deadlines, and mistakes
  • Constantly appearing “disorganized” or showing signs of forgetfulness
  • Indecision and low productivity
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Plagued by self-doubt and insecurity
  • Struggling to stay motivated and feeling disconnected
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Drastic changes in image or appearance


Employers have a major role in motivating their employees to seek assistance if they are struggling with depression. A crucial step is adding depression screening into an employee’s health risk assessment and Employee Assistance Program. Employers should also ensure that the mental health plan utilized by their organization employs reliable methods of identification, such as the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).

Employers should make sure to communicate with their health plans that they want primary care clinicians to run regular depression screenings and provide collaborative care. This research-based model of healthcare has been proven time and time again, boasting more than eighty studies demonstrating its success in improving treatment outcomes.

To ensure access to quality care for their employees, employers should mandate that health plans enable CPT billing codes for collaborative care. This was launched in 2017 and allows medical professionals to invoice for services. In this setting, a primary care provider works together with a specialty mental health professional and an attendant case manager on the patient’s behalf.


Encourage your employees to make use of their health and assistance programs. Early intervention is vital, so be sure to remind them regularly that they have the resources available for maintaining physical and mental well-being while still being productive at work. Make it easy for your staff by informing them on how to access confidential information about mental healthcare quickly when needed. Additionally, promote mental health messages during times of high stress or around holidays, especially if there are events happening in the workplace or outside that may cause disruption among workers.

The Bottom Line

Investing in a mentally healthy workplace can lead to lowered medical expenses, improved productivity, and reduced disability costs. Taking action against depression is not only beneficial for the mental health of employees but also brings tangible benefits that directly affect your business’s bottom line. When you invest in promoting a mentally healthy workforce, it truly pays off.


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The Union Workforce Initiative is for educational, training, and awareness purposes only. This is not an Employee Assistance Program. We help build awareness within the workforces of employer/employee assistance professionals, substance abuse professionals, nurses, doctors, and other educational professionals.