excludingadultEmployers have been encouraged to take a more proactive approach to staff who show symptoms of depression in the wake of figures showing the illness now costs European workplaces an estimated £77 billion a year.

The greatest economic loss is through absenteeism and lost productivity, according to a new report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and King’s College London.

The report reveals that although 30 million people in Europe – and 350 million worldwide – experience depression, many workplaces seriously underestimate its impact.

LSE’s Professor Martin Knapp and Dr Sara Evans-Lacko from King’s College made their findings after carrying out a survey that encompassed seven European countries.

Further reading: Target set to lower European levels of depression  

Prof Knapp said: "According to the World Health Organisation, depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide and has significant economic consequences.

"Despite a lot of publicity surrounding mental illness, it is worrying to see that there is still a major stigma associated with depression and many employers are not dealing with it adequately."

Adding to ignorance of mental health
Managers who avoid discussing an employee’s depression are only adding to the general ignorance of mental health and not helping either the company or the staff member, the report suggests.

Other major findings include:
• 20-55% of employees diagnosed with depression in Europe take time off work due to the illness
• Female, divorced, part-time workers are more likely to experience depression
• University-educated professionals are less likely to take time off work when depressed and, if they do, are reluctant to tell their employer the reason why
• 20% of employed people report having a previous diagnosis of depression
• Italians are less likely to reveal a prior diagnosis of depression compared to people in the UK and Turkey
• Managers in Denmark are more sympathetic towards depressed employees and less likely to discriminate against them than their European counterparts
• Managers in France and Spain are the most likely to recommend that the employee seek help from a healthcare professional for their depression.

Being offered flexible working hours and time off is not necessarily the best strategy, the authors suggest, because it doesn’t promote social inclusion, which is what a depressed person needs. A better option to tackle mental illness in the workplace is for managers to offer direct help to depressed employees.

"Managers have an important role to play by creating supportive working environments that promote social acceptance,” said Dr Evans-Lacko. "By doing so, their employees will feel more secure discussing any potential mental health issues.”