excludingadultA group of major European employers has launched a drive to reduce the number of people who take time off from work due to depression every year.

With research showing that 1 in 10 employees – some 34 million – in Europe take time off work due to depression, Martin Knapp, professor of social policy and co-director of LSE Health and Social Care said it is time for senior European executives to work together to combat "the catastrophic impact that depression can have businesses.

"New research has shown that an average of 36 days is taken off work per episode of depression.  Across the European working population this could mean something approaching 1 billion working days lost to depression. 

"The economic impact is potentially enormous, and this does not take into consideration the reduced productivity of people who keep on working while they are depressed.”
Significant impairment in work function

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and has a direct impact on company profit due to presenteeism (attending work whilst ill) and absenteeism (taking time off work). The cognitive symptoms of depression such as concentration difficulties, indecisiveness, and/or forgetfulness are present up to 94% of the time in an episode of depression and cause significant impairment in work function.

According to data compiled by some of the largest employers in Europe, including Barclays and Unilever, people with depression report on average 5.6 hours per week of total health-related lost productivity time more than those without depression.

The businesses have formed a 'Target Depression' Steering Committee which also includes representation from the Federation of European Employers and the International Labour Organization.

“Mental health is the dominant workplace health issue of our time. Work can either be beneficial or harmful to mental health and employers can make a major contribution to the wellbeing of society by their actions,” said Dr Paul Litchfield, BT Group plc chief medical officer and Target Depression in the Workplace Steering Committee Advisor.

"Combatting depression has been a priority for BT for many years and is an integral part of our Mental Health Framework which has delivered significant business benefits as well as helping very many of our people. 

"Through the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, we are looking forward to working with other employers to drive best practice to a higher level and to disseminate it as widely as possible."

Bill Wilkerson, executive chairman of Mental Health International and Target Depression in the Workplace chair, added: “We believe there is a huge need for the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, which will help us tackle one of the leading public health problems facing the working population of Europe. As part of a global effort, we aim to provide valuable tools and resources which will benefit companies, not just in Europe but worldwide, to alleviate both the personal and economic burden of depression.”