New Tool Helps Identify Depressed Workers

If there are 20 workers at your worksite, the odds are that at least one of them is depressed, a condition that is serious, costly and treatable.

A depression-screening program is an effective and inexpensive way to identify some of the most emotionally distressed employees, according to a new evidence-based statement released by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Depressive disorders are common and costly, according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). Experts estimate that depression affects from five to 17 percent of the population, with an annual estimated cost of $43 billion.

These estimates do not include "presenteeism," or the largest single cost of depression, according to the ACOEM Task Force on Productivity and Health. Presenteeism is the decline in the quality and output of the work resulting from the depression of employees who do show up for work.

With proper diagnosis and treatment following screening, workers suffering from depression are likely to experience significant clinical improvement and, as a result, be more productive at work.

Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a recommendation and rationale for screening for depression. The Task Force summarized its findings as follows:

  • There is good evidence that screening improves the accurate identification of depressed patients in primary care settings and that treatment decreases clinical morbidity;
  • Large benefits have been observed in studies in which the communication of screening results is coordinated with effective follow-up and treatment.
  • Many formal screening tools are available. However, asking two simple questions about mood may be as effective as using any of the longer screening instruments: "Over the past two weeks have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?" and "Over the past two weeks, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?"
  • Clinical practices that screen for depression should have systems in place to ensure that positive screening results are followed by accurate diagnosis, effective treatment and careful follow-up. Benefits from screening are unlikely to be realized unless such systems are functioning well.

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