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Health experts report US$246 billion cost of workplace depression across eight countries

New data released today shows that workplace depression is a major issue across different cultures and economies, with “wide and devastating” consequences for thousands of organisations worldwide.

In a study of eight countries spanning diverse cultures and GDP, researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) say depression is collectively costing the nations of Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, South Africa and the USA more than US$246 billion a year.

Data from a survey of 8000 employees across these countries reveals that more highly educated employees, in particular, have a more negative impact if they remain at work while depressed. This is because they are more likely to manage others and the knock-on effects are felt down the line.

This is the first study of its kind in the world to analyse the impact of depression on workplace productivity across a range of countries that differ both culturally and economically.

The findings follow on the heels of a major European study on workplace depression by the same researchers in March 2014, signalling an urgent need for employers to take a more pro-active approach to tackling mental health issues.

Lead researcher Dr Sara Evans-Lacko says the enormous costs of depression due to absence and loss of productivity are set to increase unless governments and employers make it a priority.

The study, published online today in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, also reveals:

  • On average, 1.2% of a country’s GDP is lost due to workers with depression attending work while unwell (i.e. presenteeism). The collective cost for the eight countries is £207 billion;
  • Absenteeism is higher than presenteeism in Japan due to people’s fear of losing their job if their depression is revealed at work;
  • The costs of employees attending work while dealing with depression is 5-10 times higher than those who take time off work to recover from depression;
  • The USA ($84.7 billion) and Brazil ($63.3 billion) experience the highest productivity losses due to presenteeism;
  • Less than 10% of respondents in China (6.4%) and South Korea (7.4%) reported having a previous diagnosis of depression compared to more than 20% in Canada, 22.7% in the USA and 25.6% in South Africa;
  • Asian countries report lower productivity losses due to depression, attributed in part to a cultural reluctance to disclose mental health issues, so the actual figures (above) relating to China and South Korea are likely to be higher;
  • Japan, however, has the highest per person costs associated with employees taking time off for depression, with 22% (costing $14 billion) of people taking 21 or more days. This suggests that employees stay at work longer until their depression is severe;
  • In South Africa, nearly twice as many employees reported a previous diagnosis of depression (25.6%) in comparison with the average (15.7%) reported across the eight countries;

Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting up to 350 million people, according to the World Health Organisation.

“These findings suggest that depression is an issue deserving global attention, regardless of a country’s economic development, national income or culture,” Dr Evans-Lacko says. “The growth of mental illness worldwide also suggests the scale of the problem is likely to increase.”

The data provides compelling evidence for global workplace programmes to be implemented to address mental health issues, Dr Evans-Lacko adds.

“Interventions which support employees with depression need to be developed, adapted, implemented and evaluated across all countries to mitigate the high costs of workplace depression.”

Additional notes for editors

For interviews contact: Dr Sara Evans-Lacko at S.Evans-Lacko@lse.ac.uk or 020 7955 6028 or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office, at c.gibson@lse.ac.uk or 020 7955 7440.

The paper, “Global trends of workplace productivity for people with depression: absenteeism and presenteeism costs across eight countries” is published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

A video is also available at: https://youtu.be/lrPMAMHjpPI

Separate infographics for each country are available here: BrazilCanadaChina, JapanMexicoSouth Africa, South Korea, the US and a global infographic.

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.

Data was also collected from the Global IDEA (Impact of Depression in the Workplace in Europe Audit) survey.

Dr Sara Evans-Lacko is an Associate Professorial Research Fellow within LSE’s Department of Social Policy, LSE Health and Social Care and the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU). She has a particular interest in the role of health services and social support in the prevention and treatment of mental illness and cross-cultural applications of this in addition to the evaluation of public health interventions.

Professor Martin Knapp, who co-authored the paper, is Director of LSE Health and Social Care and the PSSRU. His research focuses on the areas of mental health, dementia, autism and long-term care.

September 26, 2016