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When Employees Feel Blue, Call in Some Phone Counseling

Feb. 16, 2012
A new study reveals that a workplace phone counseling program, which targeted employees experiencing depression, helped improve depressive symptoms and led to increased productivity and fewer missed workdays.

The study, led by Debra Lerner, M.S., Ph.D., of Tufts University, anonymously surveyed 79 Maine state government employees who suffered from depression. Over an 8-week period, these workers participated in the Work and Health Initiative (WHI) program, which offered telephone sessions with a trained counselor.

The phone counseling included work coaching and modification to specifically target job problems related to depression; coordination of care, which included working with the patients' doctors to ensure medical treatment for the depression; and cognitive-behavior therapy strategies, which helped change depression-related thoughts and behaviors that interfered with daily functioning.

Improved Symptoms, Cost Savings

Lerner and colleagues determined that the WHI program improved depressive symptoms along with a number of work-related outcomes, including increased productivity and fewer missed workdays. By reducing work absences, this program led to cost savings – an average of $6,000 per worker per year.

Depression is common in working-age adults and has a significant impact on work performance – including an increased risk of job loss. Medical treatment may not be enough to overcome depression-related work disruption, researchers said. The WHI regarded return to effective functioning as an important goal of treatment for depressed workers.

"The WHI was superior to usual care in helping employees with depression function more effectively and productively," Lerner and coauthors wrote.

The study was published in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

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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