ACOEM Takes a Stand Against Workplace Depression

Feb. 18, 2009
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) formally adopted a new position statement on depression in the workplace – a condition it says is an increasing drain on workforce productivity.

In its statement, “Depression in the Working Population,” ACOEM identifies workplace depression as a major contributor to absenteeism and presenteeism (a condition in which workers are on the job, but not fully functional) among employers, with an estimated cost of $36 billion in lost productivity per year.

The new position statement provides a comprehensive update on the incidence and impact of workplace depression and calls for a new approach to managing the disorder, including programs to improve coping skills, screening programs and the promotion of early treatment.

ACOEM previously published a position statement on depression in 2002. The new statement includes updated references, analysis and recommendations from a special April 2008 edition of the Journal of Environmental and Occupational Medicine that focused solely on depression in the workplace.

Among the findings in ACOEM’s new statement:

  • Only about half of depressed workers are receiving any treatment and fewer than half of these receive care that is consistent with current treatment guidelines for organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association.
  • Because so few workers are treated for depression, workplace productivity is impacted significantly. Studies show increases in absenteeism and unemployment, as well as disruptive effects on work organization and increased health and disability costs.
  • Depression tends to strike workers earlier than other chronic diseases and may affect productivity for a much longer period. Unlike conditions such as cardiovascular disease or hypertension, depression often strikes very early in a worker’s career, creating a disease burden that may last for decades in the workplace.

ACOEM has been a leader in raising awareness of depression in the workplace, publishing 51 articles on the subject in its journal since 1996 and more recently launching a Depression in the Workplace project, co-directed by workplace depression experts Garson M. Caruso, M.D., and T. Larry Myette, M.D.

According to Caruso, implementing policies advocated by ACOEM could help reduce the enormous toll workplace depression takes on employee productivity.

“What we are trying to establish through research, and one of the major points of the entire Depression in the Workplace project, is that businesses can achieve a positive return on investment when they create programs to intervene and treat depression at its early stages,” Caruso said. “More and more studies are now making this connection.”

To read “Depression in the Working Population,” visit http:// www.acoem.org.
About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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