People With Depression Miss Fewer Days In Supportive Workplaces

By Kelly Burch 07/27/18

Researchers examined workplace policies and even varying gross domestic product for a recent global study on working with depression.

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People with depression miss fewer days of work if they are employed somewhere that supports them in their illness, a new study has found. 

The study, published in The British Medical Journal, looked at workers in 15 countries. It found that workers with self-reported depression who have managers who support and assist them miss fewer days of work, lessening the economic impact of their disease.  

“Working in an environment where managers felt comfortable to offer help and support to the employee rather than avoid them was independently associated with less absenteeism and more presenteeism,” the authors concluded. 

Supportive workplaces might have formal policies for handling mental health issues, time-off policies that allow for mental health episodes, or a system for referring people to mental health care. All of these can result in fewer missed days of work and therefore a lower economic impact of depression. 

“We know that supportive managers and workplace practices are associated with greater openness and disclosure, in addition to more positive attitudes towards employees with depression,” the study authors write. 

In addition to looking at differing workplace policies, the study authors looked at differences in support for depression in countries with varying gross domestic product (GDP). In countries with lower GDPs, people with depression were more likely to miss days of work, possibly because there are fewer resources available than in countries with higher GDPs. 

“Country contextual factors such as country GDP and financial resources can also influence the availability of support and potential for investment,” authors wrote.

While this might be expected, study authors found that managers' reactions to employees with depression were “at least as important” as a country’s GDP in predicting how often the employee would miss work. 

Researchers also examined how social pressures impacted employees' presence at work. They found that employees with depression were less likely to disclose their condition in Asian countries compared with Western countries, likely because of stigma around mental health in those places. 

“Workplace policies and practices are likely to reflect broader sociocultural attitudes and beliefs about mental health and societal values about investment in prevention and support for people with mental health problems,” authors wrote.

“This may influence workplace culture in relation to openness and comfort in discussing mental health issues. Previous research has shown that a cultural context which is more open and accepting of mental illness is associated with higher rates of help-seeking, antidepressant use and empowerment.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.