WorkWise: Fewer lost work days, greater productivity possible now

culp@workwise.netJuly 7, 2013 


(Ellen Dallager) Clare Miller tells colleagues about Right Direction, a new initiative designed to diminish depression and increase productivity in the workplace. Based in Arlington, Va., she is director of the American Psychiatric Foundation Partnership for Workplace Mental Health.

ELLEN DALLAGER PHOTOGRAPHY — @ 2012 Ellen Dallager Photograph

Faulty systems and processes, failed technology and human error diminish productivity, but an invisible productivity-killer has long plagued the workplace every day. In mid-May a cost-free breakthrough service emerged to combat it.

You’ve seen symptoms of it in people who can’t concentrate well, make decisions or remember, according to Clare Miller, director of the American Psychiatric Foundation Partnership for Workplace Mental Health in Arlington, Va. It diminishes the quality of their work, isolates them, robs them of sleep or causes them to sleep too much.

Depression, which includes bipolarity, dysthymia and major depression, afflicts 9.5 percent of the adult population in a 12-month period, reports the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md.

“Unlike many other chronic diseases,” says Michael Schoenbaum, senior advisor for mental health services, epidemiology and economics, “it affects people throughout their work life. It reduces their productivity at work, increases their sick days and absenteeism, and makes them less likely to work, in addition to causing significant suffering for the person, family and co-workers.”

A 2001 study by Ronald Leopold published during his tenure at MetLife found that depression costs employers $17 billion to $44 billion in lost work days (not productivity, as erroneously cited by some media outlets).

Schoenbaum mentions that while there may be no simple or current statistic about cost to employers, depression leads to “tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity. As a labor economist I see that the breakdown of the cost borne by the employer versus the employee isn’t clear. If people are unproductive over time, it affects their salaries, they don’t get promoted or get raises and they get more negative reviews.”


“Employers will lose productivity if the person isn’t taken care of,” Miller explains. Advancing mental health at work, the Partnership has developed a new service called Right Direction, which it’s rolling out in organizations at no cost to employers Companies assume no role in directing care. They simply make information available.

The site also enhances leadership and staff awareness of the overall problem at any level in organizations ( A person who detects depression can follow through with the employee assistance program, a physician or a psychiatrist.

Online Computer Library Center Inc., a nonprofit in Dublin, Ohio, is implementing Right Direction. “Depression is a real health concern for all employees and it still has stigma,” reports Susan Marsico, director of corporate benefits and HR systems. “Some people are afraid to talk about it. Putting in a program like this (becomes) a starting-point for discussion.” Her organization is a member of the Employers Health Coalition Inc., a Canton, Ohio, nonprofit comprised of employers nationwide seeking to reduce healthcare costs in the workplace.


Right Direction makes it possible for companies of all sizes to increase understanding about depression. “It was developed hand-in-hand with employees in response to express employer interest and need,” Miller comments.

OCLC, the computer library nonprofit, is shaping the program’s materials and templates to its culture. Marsico indicates that the amount of time to implement will likely vary from company to company, depending upon the complexity of each decision-making process. She concedes that to make the program work, people at all levels will need to gain understanding of the issue Right Direction seeks to address, which requires some time.

Miller says the Partnership is considering the possibility of developing similar programs to minimize stress, anxiety and substance abuse, which are also prevalent at work. As the discussion about depression in the workplace continues, we look forward to research updates on its incidence, referrals and amelioration.

(The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association and co-creator Employers Health has made free employer kits available here: (

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at © 2013 Passage Media.

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