It’s hard not to pay attention to a number like $44 billion.
That’s what depression costs employers annually, according to one of the speakers at a session titled “A Step in the Right Direction: Addressing Depression in the Workplace” at this week’s National Business Coalition on Health’s annual conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.
In an effort to reconfirm that figure, I checked out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. There, the CDC estimates that depression causes “200 million lost workdays each year at a cost to employers of $17 billion to $44 billion.” But whether we’re talking $17 billion or $44 billion, there’s no denying we’re dealing with some pretty serious dollars here.
In light of this, you’d think employers would have plenty of tools available to them for addressing this issue. But according to the panelists at the NBCH session, that hasn’t been the case.
“We’ve made great strides in terms of awareness of mental health and depression issues, but there’s still a long way to go,” explained Clare Miller, director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health (a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation) in Arlington, Va., and one of the panelists. “Even though the dialogue has changed, many, many people fail to reach out for help.”
Miller pointed out that “depression can result in sleep problems, trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, physical aches and pains, irritability, and just a pervasive period of sadness or lack of motivation. It can have a very serious effect on people’s ability to be effective in the workplace.”
To address the issue, Miller’s organization and Employers Health, a national employer coalition based in Canton, Ohio, introduced in May a toolkit titled RightDirection that aims to “raise awareness about depression in the workplace and its effect on productivity, promote early recognition of symptoms, and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.”
In a press release on the initiative, Marcas Miles, director of programs and communications at Employers Health and one of the session’s panelists, explained that the program “goes beyond telling employers what they should do to actually providing them [with] a step-by-step tool to de-stigmatize depression in the workplace … .”
All of the panelists seemed to agree that changing the stigma surrounding depression needs to be at the heart of any meaningful effort. To that end, RightDirection gives employers and managers tools for talking to their employees about depression.
Sue Grabowski, president of Grabowski & Co., a Uniontown, Ohio, firm involved in producing the program and one of the panelists, pointed out that “everyday conversations will go a long way to eliminating the stigma around depression.” She said in helping to produce the toolkit, her firm was very careful about the words it chose to use.
Grabowski added that RightDirection is highly customizable. For example, employers have an assortment of posters to choose from to ensure its messaging fits the culture of the organization.
Panelists also included Susan Marsico, director of corporate benefits and HR systems at Online Computer Library Center, a Dublin, Ohio firm that supports 70,000 libraries around the globe. OCLC launched RightDirection last month in conjunction with open enrollment, positioning it as an extension of the company’s wellness initiative. “We want to let [employees and their family members, who are invited to participate] know that wellness is about the whole person,” Marsico said.
For some reason, RightDirection flew under HRE’s radar when it was released earlier in the year. But considering the importance of and huge pricetag associated with this issue, and the limited resources currently available to employers, I’m glad I ran across it earlier this week at the NBCH event and could give it some belated exposure here today.