Depression is remarkably prevalent in the workforce, according to a new national survey by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health. More than one in five Canadian employees (22%) say they are currently suffering from depression, and an additional 16% say that they have in the past, reports the study.
"There's a very direct cost to employers caused by mental-health challenges," says Mike Schwartz, Winnipeg-based senior vice-president of group benefits for Great-West Life and the centre's executive director. "You'll see it in absenteeism, lost productivity, quality issues and disability rates."
Great-West Life commissioned the new Ipsos Reid survey to build on its 2007 and 2009 surveys about depression in the workplace. Although the new study didn't quantify the costs to employers, 19% of respondents to the 2007 survey said they had missed at least three days of work in the most recent 12 months due to depression.
The latest survey found that the vast majority of managers and supervisors (84%) agree that it's part of their job to intervene with an employee who they believe shows signs of depression. But the survey also provided a striking result about what a tough issue this remains: the vast majority of respondents (83%) say that it is easier for workplaces to deal with physical disabilities than with mental-health conditions.
"There's a huge issue around stigma, and still significant issues around lack of knowledge and lack of understanding," says Schwartz. "We're making progress, but we're not there yet."
In a typical workplace, says Schwartz, if an employee takes time off to deal with a physical-health crisis, such as by being treated for cancer, the rest of the team knows what's going on and is eager to welcome that person back. But mental-health issues are often shrouded in secrecy, leaving co-workers and employers wondering what is happening.
The survey did include some encouraging results when compared with the one five years earlier. Almost a third (31%) of managers and supervisors reported that they have received training to help them identify and deal with employees exhibiting signs of depression, up sharply from just 13% in 2007. And 55% said they have personally intervened with an employee who showed signs of depression, up from 29% in 2007.
Schwartz says small and mid-sized companies often lack the resources necessary to effectively address mental-health issues in the workplace. He says he hopes owners and employees at SMEs will access the range of free online resources that the mental-health centre offers.
The survey results are based on responses in July from 6,624 employees and 2,317 managers or supervisors through the Ipsos Canadian online panel.