Depressed Workers Have Decreased Productivity Despite Treatment Efforts

Employees with depression have higher costs related to short-term disability and absenteeism – even after receiving antidepressant therapy, reports a study in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Led by Suellen Curkendall, Ph.D., of Thomson Reuters Healthcare in Washington, D.C., the researchers used insurance claims and employee health and productivity databases to look at the relationship between antidepressant treatment and productivity costs.

The results suggested that employees with depression were about twice as likely to use short-term disability leave, compared to workers without depression. For workers with severe depression, the short-term disability rate was three times higher.

Employees with depression also missed more workdays. "Even after receiving antidepressant treatment, patients with depression still have significant productivity deficits," Curkendall and colleagues wrote. They estimated annual short-term disability costs at about $1,000 per worker with depression and $1,700 per worker with severe depression – much higher than for common diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Many studies have linked depression to reduced productivity at work, but less is known about how productivity is affected by treatment for depression. The new results show that even in workers taking antidepressant drugs, depression is associated with increased disability and absenteeism.

The productivity losses probably result from depression or depressive symptoms that persist despite treatment, according to Curkendall and colleagues. “Therapies that can better manage depression may provide opportunities for savings to employers,” they explained.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine is the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

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