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Employers Across the Globe Must Take Pro-Active Approach to Manage Depression

New data released from the London School of Economics shows that workplace depression is a major issue across different cultures and economies.

The effects of employee depression are “wide and devastating” consequences for thousands of organizations worldwide, say the investigators.

In a study of eight countries spanning diverse cultures and GDP, researchers discovered depression is collectively costing the nations of Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, and the USA more than $246 billion a year.

Data from a survey of 8,000 employees across these countries reveals that more highly educated employees, in particular, have a more negative impact if they remain at work while depressed. Researchers believe this occurs because managers and professionals are more likely to manage others and therefore their issues may cause problems that are felt down the line.

Researchers explain that this is the first study of its kind in the world to analyze the impact of depression on workplace productivity across a range of countries that differ both culturally and economically. The findings follow on the heels of a major European study on workplace depression by the same researchers in March 2014, signaling an urgent need for employers to take a more pro-active approach to tackling mental health issues.

Lead researcher Dr Sara Evans-Lacko says the enormous costs of depression due to absence and loss of productivity are set to increase unless governments and employers make it a priority.

The study, published online in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, also reveals:

  • On average, one percent of a country’s GDP is lost due to workers with depression attending work while unwell — a condition called presenteeism.
  • Absenteeism is higher than presenteeism in Japan due to people’s fear of losing their job if their depression is revealed at work.
  • The costs of employees attending work while dealing with depression is five to 10 times higher than those who take time off work to recover from depression.
  • The USA ($84.7 billion) and Brazil ($63.3 billion) experience the highest productivity losses due to presenteeism.
  • Less than 10 percent of respondents in China (6.4 percent) and South Korea (7.4 percent) reported having a previous diagnosis of depression compared to more than 20 percent in Canada, 22.7 percent in the USA, and 25.6 percent in South Africa.
  • Asian countries report lower productivity losses due to depression, attributed in part to a cultural reluctance to disclose mental health issues, so the actual figures (above) relating to China and South Korea are likely to be higher.
  • Japan, however, has the highest aggregate costs associated with employees taking time off for depression, with 22 percent (costing $14 billion) of people taking 21 or more days. This suggests that employees stay at work longer until their depression is severe.
  • The prevalence of depression in South Africa (25.6 percent) is nearly two times higher than the average (15.7 percent) reported across the eight countries.

Overall, researchers discovered depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting up to 350 million people, according to the World Health Organization.

“These findings suggest that depression is an issue deserving global attention, regardless of a country’s economic development, national income or culture,” Dr Evans-Lacko says.

“The growth of mental illness worldwide also suggests the scale of the problem is likely to increase.”

The data provides compelling evidence for global workplace programs to be implemented to address mental health issues, Dr Evans-Lacko adds.

“Interventions which support employees with depression need to be developed, adapted, implemented and evaluated across all countries to mitigate the high costs of workplace depression.”

Source: London School of Economics

Employers Across the Globe Must Take Pro-Active Approach to Manage Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Employers Across the Globe Must Take Pro-Active Approach to Manage Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Sep 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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