Employee depression leaves bosses unprepared

Employers tend to better accommodate employees with a physical illness or disability than workers with mental-health illnesses, according to a survey that found one in five employees was dealing with depression.

Twenty-two per cent of employees surveyed for the poll released Tuesday said they were either clinically depressed (14 per cent) or diagnosed themselves as having depression (eight per cent).

The survey of more than 6,600 employees and managers was conducted by Ispos-Reid for Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Fewer respondents said they were under treatment for depression, compared to a survey done five years earlier:

Six per cent said they were under a doctor’s care for depression in 2012, down one percentage point from 2007.

Similar numbers reported taking prescription medications for depression, seven per cent this year, down a point from 2007.

Among managers and supervisors, 84 per cent said it's part of their job to intervene with an employee they believe is showing signs of depression, up from 83 per cent in the previous survey.

However, 63 per cent said they'd like better training to deal with employees who have depression. Employers were perceived to be more responsive to physical health issues than to mental illnesses.

Employers were also seen as less accommodating of employees who have anxiety or panic disorders (66 per cent) or those stressed to the point of reduced productivity or requiring time off work (67 per cent).

"There's been a lot of resistance historically for employers to get involved with mental health issues with regard to their employees," said Dr. Sagar Parikh, a psychiatrist at Toronto Western Hospital who studies workplace depression.

"Here, there's a clear indication that for the single-most disabling disorder in all of health care, more than cancer and more than heart disease, namely depression … finally the vast majority of managers and supervisors understand that it is reasonable to intervene in some capacity," he added in an interview.

Other perceived levels of accommodation for illnesses were:

Requiring the use of a wheelchair: 89 per cent.

Requiring major surgery such as heart or cancer: 88 per cent.

Having a visual or auditory impairment: 85 per cent.

Taking an extended leave of absence to deal with a mental health issue: 76 per cent.

Eight in 10 employees and managers agreed "it is easier for workplaces to deal with physical disabilities than with mental health conditions."

More employees with depression said their co-workers or direct bosses were supportive, 61 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively, compared with their unions, 40 per cent, or human resource departments, 40 per cent.

A study in January on workers in Alberta suggested that people who had experienced a moderate depressive episode and received treatment were 2.5 times more likely to be highly productive compared with those who had no treatment.

Among those study participants who had been diagnosed with a severe depressive episode, 57 per cent did not receive treatment, said Carolyn Dewa, head of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's Centre for Research on Employment and Workplace Health.

The online survey of 4,307 employees and 2,317 managers or supervisor was conducted July 18-24.