Yet another study has been released that indicates that depression is the primary sick-leave issue faced in the workplace. This is not recent news; “workplace” depression has been identified as the soon-to-be primary cause of employee sick time for at least a few years now.
And one cannot argue with the numbers – the just-released Ipsos-Reid poll confirmed that some 22 percent of Canadian workers are experiencing depression. An April 2012 report by the Mental Health Commission demonstrated that mental health problems account for 47 percent of all approved disability claims in the Canadian civil service – nearly double the percentage of 20 years earlier.
Far be it from me to question the numbers. Truth be told, I have myself taken “stress leave” as a result of mental health issues. So I have reason to believe that they’re accurate.
That same report referenced above claimed that in 2010, mental health problems accounted for close to a third of short- and long-term disability claims. And this percentage is only continuing to increase.
It’s been estimated that between compensation to sick workers and lost productivity, mental issues cost the Canadian economy about $50 billion annually. That is not a typo. And yes, it is an astronomical number.
So I have no doubt that mental issues are prevalent throughout society, and they are not at all being sufficiently addressed, and workplaces and management are not equipped to deal with it, et cetera. That goes without saying.
As Dr. Karen Cohen, CEO of the Canadian Psychological Association, has just commented in response to the most recent Ipsos-Reid findings, while “there’s no clinical diagnosis of workplace depression,” office life does in fact create its own unique stresses.
I have a bit of an issue with the term “workplace depression” more than anything else, as you might have already surmised. I don’t know of an individual I’ve ever worked with, and neither have I ever heard anecdotally of anyone who came to work “happy,” only to become “depressed,” and then to become “happy” again after they left for home. Do some people’s jobs stress them out? Yes they do. Does workplace stress exacerbate depression specifically and mental health in general? Almost certainly.
But depression is depression is depression. It’s very important that we seem to be more able to talk about depression in the workplace than ever before, and whatever tools that can help management address this problem should be provided. But depression isn’t a 9-to-5 problem. And it isn’t uniquely a workplace problem.
My concern is that we are going to isolate “workplace depression” as some type of unique illness and – although I agree that any attention paid to depression is to be valued and is worth something in and of itself – that we will thereby give short shrift the larger problem of depression and it’s role in all aspects of life. When people are at home, when they’re at play, and when they’re at work.
Some medical practitioners are responding to the Ipsos-Reid study by suggesting that they don’t believe that employers should shoulder the full burden of improving mental health in the workplace. And they’re right – they shouldn’t. But we should endeavour to provide them with whatever assistance we can to help them deal with this increasingly prevalent scourge.
It’s been demonstrated that the incidence of depression hasn’t really changed over the years, but maybe that some of the stigma has decreased, and therefore maybe people are more willing to talk about it. And I think that’s true. That’s been my experience. I don’t know anyone that I work closely with that hasn’t been affected directly or indirectly by depression and the devastating toll that it takes on individuals and on society.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s great that we’re more able to talk about depression, and if that’s happening in the workplace then that’s a great thing. But let’s not kid ourselves into believing that there is some unique phenomenon of “workplace depression” that has only recently been discovered. It’s depression, plain and simple. And it permeates all dimensions of people’s lives.