Mental Disorders Affect 1 in 8 Working Americans. On this World Health Day Encourage Better Employee Health

About two months ago, Harvey Reed knew things had changed when he realized he was almost entirely alone at work. He worked in a large organization, surrounded by clever, funny people. The job was a fulfillment of the ambition he had when he left university four years ago. He had the privilege of working in an area whose subject matter fascinated him, and which he spent a good amount of time studying and researching about.

Reed’s shy and introverted behavior balked him from confiding that severe loneliness had blighted his life. It became even more prevalent when he moved to a different title where he was a different generation to his immediate colleagues. When connections were cut, things became even more severe.

“Some days, it doesn’t feel worth even putting up with the misery. On most days, I would just go home sit at my computer and eat dinner….watch an episode on Netflix or something, and drain myself to sleep. I did this for a year and my depression got pretty bad to the point that I didn’t have the energy to function,” says Reed.

So before a scheduled meeting with the human resources manager, Reed decided he needed to reveal something he had not told anyone outside of his being: the loneliness has sunk him into depression.

“It can be worse, but that doesn’t make the crippling loneliness disappear or be more bearable.”

People leave by car instead of buses, use Netflix rather than the cinema. We no longer talk to people. Traditional life aspects prepare us for a lifetime of loneliness. Leaving home for college, starting a new job, the death of a beloved one, moving to a new country. These events are punctuated by feelings of severed connections that once bound us with like-minded people. The social collapse has become a collateral damage, and it is so pervasive that we’ve become lone rangers, self-starters, and sole traders, surviving alone.

The Great Depression

Mental disorder accounts for $44 billion in lost wages in the United States each year, yet many employees may not report their illness or seek treatment due to stigma or the fear of losing their jobs.

Depression, of course, is not just an extreme form of sadness or grief. It is a clinically defined mental illness that affects roughly one in eight working Americans over the age of 18. Yet, in many workplaces, depression is regarded as a character flaw rather than a treatable illness.

Depression World Health Day

A 2013 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that depression makes up for 10.8% of the U.S. full-time workforce and average 8.7 missed work days each year due to poor health. The cost of alone is more than $23 billion in lost productivity annually to U.S. companies.

Celebrities and big names who publicize their mental disorders have to some extend de-stigmatized depression, however, stamping it out from the workplace is a battle impending.

A new federal regulation governing the hiring and on-the-job treatment of people with mental disabilities requires employers to encourage employees to disclose their disabilities. While the Americans with Disabilities Act forbids companies from hiring people with mental disorders, people do not feel safe coming forward.

Gallup Depression Poll World Health Day mental health disorders

Depression: Let’s Talk

Last August, Maya 24, accepted her first graduate role as a Marketing Manager at a low-cost airline. The company was losing thousands of dollars so they expected employees to work 7 am to 6 pm with no overtime. While at the same time, all the marketing work was sent to an outside firm. It was all good, but then at the end of November, her father passed away suddenly which ruined her mental health. Everything came down crashing and she couldn’t be bothered with work anymore.

While she still went to work every day and did what was asked of her, it was obvious that her work wasn’t as great and that she didn’t want to be there.

“I was grieving my father’s health and I acknowledge that it affected my work performance. All said and done, I’m in a much better headspace now,” says Maya.

Three months ago, the head of the security walked into her office and started packing away her belongings before the HR told her that she was fired.

“I guess it was a well-intentioned learning experience, that’s how I like to spin it. I’m hoping it won’t be a deal breaker to my future employer.”

A lot of companies still struggle with dealing with depression in a proactive way. Any form of work-related therapy can help individuals recognize that depression at work may be less about work and more about their mental wellbeing. Perhaps, it’s because we see happiness as a choice. Scientific researchers have shown that depression is not a choice, it’s a form of psychological damage to the brain.

Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic magazine, kept his crippling anxiety a secret for 35 years from everyone until his book “My Age of Anxiety” was published two years ago.

“To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck–paddling, paddling, paddling.”

― Scott Stossel, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

This World Health Day, Pledge Support

Depression Lets Talk World Health DayFinancial woes and increased isolation may be to blame for crippling anxiety and depression, leading to suicide risks among the American workforce. The growing rate of workplace suicides is difficult to ignore.

Dr. Alex Crosby, an epidemiologist at the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, found that workplace suicide surges when the economy is weak. It was at its peak in 1932, during the Great Depression, at 22.1 per 100,000, roughly 70 percent higher than in 2014.

What’s worrisome is that workplace suicides have surged to the highest levels in nearly three decades. According to a federal data analysis, the rise is particularly steep for women. Every twenty minutes, someone commits suicide in the United States. Below are key findings about workplace suicides:

Workers aged 65 to 74 are more likely to end their lives.

The profession with the highest suicide rate is protective services such as firefighters and police.

Suicide rates are higher for men at 2.7 per one million.

It continues to be business as usual for corporations in the world. But it’s high time we look across the spectrum and take responsibility for employee health. To positively affect change, we need interventions to address the mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing. Expressing support is much needed, reassuring the employee that they will be treated fairly and no differently to an employee with a physical disability or illness.

Promote that you have a workforce which is supportive of employees when they experience mental health problems. This makes it easier for people to be open about their depression, seek help and support, encourages others to be supportive, too.

It’s World Health Day. This year focuses on Depression. 1 in 8 working Americans suffer from anxiety and depression. Let’s pledge support. What’s something employers might not know about your experience with depression, and what would you say to guide them to work effectively? If you have a story to tell, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and a short bio.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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