excludingadultTo improve productivity and health and wellbeing among those of working age, more action must be taken to support people with depression to stay in and to return to work, a new report has recommended. 

The report, from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, recommended that government departments at a national and regional level work together and commit to improving the provision of evidence-based support to help people with depression achieving vocational outcomes. 

The paper, Symptoms of Depression and their Effects on Employment, considers the ways in which some of the symptoms associated with depression can form a barrier to employment. This adds to evidence around the effects that mental health conditions can have on an individual’s ability to remain in or to find work.

Authors Karen Steadman and Tyna Taskila explore which symptoms are most likely to affect employment outcomes, and which interventions are seen as the most effective in supporting people who experience depression to remain in or return to work. It finds that the most effective interventions, including a range psychological therapies and specialist employment support services, are not widely accessible, nor available in a timely fashion. 

The research also highlighted the generally poor recognition of the symptoms most likely to influence employment – including ‘cognitive symptoms’ such as poor concentration, difficulty with decision making, and negative thinking. Where healthcare professionals do not recognise these symptoms they may go untreated, while poor awareness of employers may lead to the misinterpretation of symptoms as poor performance.

The report makes recommendations that seek to increase the awareness and understanding of the symptoms of depression and how they affect job retention and job seeking: 

Working better together – encouraging joint-working of government departments, working with local partners and the voluntary sector, and engaging with employers to deal with this cross-cutting concern

Promoting the concept of employment as a health outcome – encouraging healthcare professionals to view employment as a treatment outcome for patients with depression

Enhancing understanding and recognition of the symptoms of depression – improving specialist knowledge about the complexities of depression within a range of health and vocational support services

Improving access to job retention support – increasing access to Access to Work, and improving out-of-hours access to treatment services. The NHS should lead by example and provide best practice support to its own employees

Improving access to evidence-based interventions – building the evidence base on what works in employment support for people with depression, and promoting and funding those evidence-based services that are already available

Developing a welfare system that supports individuals with depression – reviewing back to work support through a depression lens, including expanding measures to include progress towards employment.

“People with depression can and want to work,” said Emer O’Neill, chief executive of the Depression Alliance. “For many the stigma and lack of knowledge about depression from employers and colleagues is often the reason that people lose their jobs. This paper demonstrates the need for training and practical support that can make life so much easier for all. We welcome this report and the opportunity to support employers and employees in developing effective ways to improve well-being within their work place and across the country.”

Professor Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness, at The Work Foundation, added: "Depression is a social and clinical condition, which is associated with increased social exclusion, and lower employment rates. Negative and discriminatory attitudes towards depression and mental health conditions in general, can present a considerable barrier to employment. For many people this results in an unwillingness to be open about their health condition and consequently a failure to access appropriate support to manage their symptoms, both in health and in employment settings, which would help them to remain in or return to work. The symptoms of depression currently present very real barriers to working, but by improving access to the right support, and with the right attitudes, they need not continue to be."