What’s the leading cause of disability among Americans aged 15 to 44, which includes a core demographic in the workforce? Depression. We all realize that depressed employees use more sick time than their mentally healthy counterparts, but we may not understand that this is true even when their depression is being treated.
Writing in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a research team from Thomson Reuters concluded that productivity losses from depressed employees are not being substantially reduced despite the widespread use of antidepressants among this population. Roughly 27 million Americans take antidepressants, but this has not resulted in uniformly positive impacts for the organizations that employ them. Why?
Examining claims, health and productivity data on over 22,000 depressed workers, the researchers speculate that several factors may be involved, including:
- Failure to take antidepressants as prescribed.
- Poor response to the first antidepressant tried (finding the right medication is largely trial-and-error).
- Questionable efficacy of antidepressants in treating anything but severe depression.
Regarding that final bullet point, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania used a meta-analysis of studies to conclude that antidepressants have no greater impact on mild to moderate depression than placebo. They suggest that, in the absence of severe and debilitating depression, other forms of treatment may be more effective. Yet, the vast majority of persons struggling with this malady only use medication.
Bottom Line: Depression that is treated with medication alone may not yield hoped-for improvements in productivity and performance. Better outcomes may require multi-modality approaches incorporating dietary changes, exercise, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and, when clinically indicated, medication.