Dan Parton cutNew research has estimated that depression costs European businesses an eye-watering £77 billion per year, so it is surprising that employers don’t do more to address the issue among their employees.

Of course, for business owners, the bottom line is key. While many seek to be socially responsible, at the end of the day, unless they make a profit, there is no business. So if there is something that was having an impact on the bottom line, which could be addressed, you’d think they would do just that? But if that something is depression, this is not always the case, it seems.

Across Europe, depression is said to cost workplaces £77 billion annually, with the greatest economic loss coming through absenteeism and lost productivity, according to a report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and King’s College London.

While the statistics can be debated – I’m always interested to know how such figures are arrived at – there is no doubt that depression costs the economy a huge amount. 

Yet still some employers do not take the problem seriously. As Professor Martin Knapp from the LSE said: “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." 

Anecdotally, I’ve heard similar stories. Indeed, in an interview I conducted for a feature in the forthcoming March/April print edition of Mental Health Today, one woman who has experienced depression said that she had found employers, in the main, unhelpful and unwilling to make adjustments for her condition. She said they would rather sack her than deal with the issue.

Thankfully, she is now in full-time employment with a company that has made adjustments and involved occupational health right from the start, which, she says, has made a massive difference. She is happy in her work and is hoping to develop a career with her new employers.

While there are many employers who are very good at helping employees with mental ill health – BT is often cited – and it is undoubtedly being recognised by increasing numbers as an issue, there are still a significant number who do not adequately deal with it. That has to change.

As the report suggested, managers who avoid discussing an employee’s depression are only adding to the general ignorance about mental health and are not helping their company or the staff member concerned.

Instead, managers should create an atmosphere where employees feel they are able to talk openly about their problems and receive support for them, the report’s authors suggest. 

This may be easier said than done. As mentioned earlier, some of the unwillingness of employers to address the issue is down to the stigma that attaches to mental health: it is still seen by some – wrongly – as a sign of weakness. Here, education is key and campaigns such as Time to Change have an on-going role to play.

The cost – or perceived cost – of implementing good mental health practices can also be a barrier. And again, education is key. While managers may need some training in mental health, courses are readily available and are not that expensive – and, more than likely, cost less than the price of doing nothing and risking employees ending up in a crisis situation.

So, when looking at the bottom line, can employers afford to ignore mental health issues? The evidence suggests not.