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Depressed employees cost European businesses £77 billion a year

Bottle-of-pills_140-pixelsEmployers need to take a more proactive approach to employees with depression in the wake of figures showing the illness now costs European workplaces an estimated £77 billion a year.

The greatest economic loss is through absenteeism and lost productivity, according to a new report by the London School of Economics and Political Science and King’s College London.

The report, published today in PLOS ONE, reveals that although 30 million people in Europe – and 350 million people worldwide – struggle with depression, many workplaces seriously underestimate its impact.

In a recent survey of 500 employers in Great Britain, over half believed that employees suffering from stress and depression could still work effectively, contradicting new data from a study of 7000 people.

LSE’s Professor Martin Knapp and Dr Sara Evans-Lacko from King’s College analysed a large cross-European survey which encompassed seven European countries.

The other major findings are:

  • 20-55 per cent of employees diagnosed with depression in Europe take time off work due to the illness;
  • Female, divorced, part-time workers are more likely to suffer depression;
  •  University-educated professionals are less likely to take time off work when depressed and, if they do, are reluctant to tell their employer the reason why;
  •  20% of employed people report having a previous diagnosis of depression.
  •  Italians are less likely to reveal a prior diagnosis of depression compared to people in GB and Turkey;
  •  Managers in Denmark are more sympathetic towards depressed employees and less likely to discriminate against them than their European counterparts;
  •  Managers in France and Spain are the most likely to recommend that the employee seek help from a healthcare professional for their depression.

“According to the World Health Organisation, depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide and has significant economic consequences,” Professor Knapp said.

“Despite a lot of publicity surrounding mental illness, it is worrying to see that there is still a major stigma associated with depression and many employers are not dealing with it adequately.”

Being offered flexible working hours and time off is not necessarily the best strategy – especially in isolation –the report finds, because it doesn’t promote social inclusion, which is what a depressed person needs.

A better option to tackle mental illness in the workplace is for managers to offer direct help to depressed employees.

Managers who avoid discussing an employee’s depression are only adding to the general ignorance of mental illness and not helping either the company or the staff member, the report says.

“Managers have an important role to play by creating supportive working environments that promote social acceptance,” Dr Evans-Lacko said. “By doing so, their employees will feel more secure discussing any potential mental health issues.”

For more information about the study, go to http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091053|

Additional notes for editors

For interviews, contact:

Professor Martin Knapp at m.knapp@lse.ac.uk| or +44 (0)20 7955 6225; Dr Sara Evans-Lacko at sara.evans-lacko@kcl.ac.uk| or +44 (0) 207 848 0619; or contact Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office at c.gibson@lse.ac.uk| or +44 ( 0)207 849 4624.

The paper “Importance of social and cultural factors for attitudes, disclosure and time off work for depression: findings from a seven country European study on depression in the workplace” is published in PLOS ONE.

A total of 7065 employees and managers were recruited for the study from seven European countries: Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Turkey and Denmark.

The study was funded by Lundbeck|, a pharmaceutical company which specialises in the treatment of mental health, and conducted by Ipsos MORI|, a leading market research company in the UK.

The study was commissioned by the European Depression Association| and conducted by Ipsos MORI|, a leading market research company in the UK. The study was supported by an educational grant from H. Lundbeck A/S|, a pharmaceutical company which specialises in the treatment of mental health.

Professor Martin Knapp| is the Director of the Personal Social Services Research Unit at LSE. Martin’s research in recent years has mainly been in the areas of mental health, dementia, autism and long-term care. Most of this work has had a particular focus on economic issues. He has authored or edited 16 books, more than 400 papers in peer-reviewed journals and many book chapters and reports. His work has fed through to have an impact on policy and practice discussions in the mental health and long-term care areas, both in the UK and elsewhere.

Dr Sara Evans-Lacko| is a Lecturer in the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, with a particular interest in the role of health services and social support in the prevention and treatment of mental illness. She has an M.H.S. in psychiatric epidemiology and PhD in Health Policy and Management, with an emphasis in health services research, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

13 March 2014

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