Although not commonplace, a phone-based, case-management workplace intervention program has been shown to effectively help workers who have depression, according to new research.
A National Institute of Mental Health study published Tuesday showed that employees who took advantage of a managed care plan that emphasized a telephone-based approach to helping people find treatment for their depression had lower scores on a depression symptom checklist, were more likely to stay on the job, and worked significantly more hours than those given usual employee assistance program services.
Depression and other mental health concerns cost employers billions of dollars a year in loss productivity.
“A systematic program to identify depression and promote effective treatment significantly improves not only clinical outcomes but also workplace outcomes,” Philip S. Wang, the study’s lead investigator, and colleagues wrote. “The financial value of the latter to employers in terms of recovered hiring, training, and salary costs suggests that many employers would experience a positive return on investment from outreach and enhanced treatment of depressed workers.”
The researchers studied 604 employees from 18 different companies with significant depression who were covered by behavioral health plans through their companies. Since the initial health screening was voluntary, the research was not based on a completely randomized sample population.
Half the employees were contacted through a telephone outreach program and encouraged to seek outpatient treatment — therapy, antidepressants, or both. The other half acted as a control group to gauge the effectiveness of the outreach program.
Telephone case managers, who were licensed master’s degree-level clinicians employed by the managed care company, monitored quality of care. The case managers even made suggestions to clinicians when treatment was not working. Those reluctant to enter treatment were offered a therapy program over the phone.
The study found that employees in the telephone support group fared far better than those who got routine care. They had less severe depression and they were more likely to experience recovery. About 26 percent of workers in the intervention group recovered, compared with about 18 percent in the routine care group.
“While formal estimates of cost-effectiveness and employer return on investment are pending, it appears to be in the business interests of many employers to implement such programs to protect their investments in the retention and productivity of workers they have hired and trained,” wrote the researchers in their findings.
Employees are often reluctant to seek treatment for depression through their employer for fear of a lack of confidentiality, possible recriminations, cost, and the stigma commonly associated with mental health issues such as depression.
The program paid off for companies as well. Employees in the intervention group worked an average of two hours more per week over the course of a year — or about two more weeks a year — compared to those who got routine care.
Ken Wells of the University of California, Los Angeles, who wrote an editorial in the same issue, said the study offers a compelling argument for investing in depression care.
The study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Source: Journal of the American Medical Association