NEW YORK (MainStreet) Depression costs workplaces about $23 billion a year just due to absenteeism, according to a recent Gallup Poll, which found workers diagnosed with major depressive disorders call out of work between four and five more days than their non-depressed counterparts. Not covered by Gallup is the cost of depression on the individual, which can be financially devastating in both one's career and personal life. Depressed people are at higher risks for job stagnancy, divorce, financial strain and alcohol abuse.
The mental disorder isn't just a hindrance; it's a debilitating disease with severe costs felt worldwide. The World Health Organization ranks depression as "the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease."
Ronald Kessler, Ph.D, who is the McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and has worked on numerous studies on depression, describes the path of the disorder in what can be described as almost cyclical, or like a snake eating itself. According to Kessler, the most damaging financial consequence of depression is "not getting a job that lives up to the individual's ability" which "is due to a combination of depression leading to low educational attainment, not applying for jobs one could do because of low self esteem and not progressing as far up a chosen career ladder as one could because of poor performance."
Poor on-the-job performance can also mean being fired or costing the workplace money. It can be especially harmful in hazardous environments where injury and accidents are likely to occur. Being demoted because of bad performance reinforces feelings of low-self esteem and inability of success.
Hiding from problems like unpaid bills can also become a cycle. Since depression saps energy, the willingness and means to fix a financial problem, like a sinking credit score, fades. According to Guy Winch, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Emotional First Aid (Hudson Street Press, 2013), a combination of "passivity, helplessness, and apathy" which accompany depression create a "recipe for financial problems."
"People might skip payments on their credit cards or mortgages, not because they don't have the money but because they just can't get themselves to write out the checks," he said. "If bills require any additional action, such as transferring funds from one account to another, it often doesn't get done."
Another concerning element: depression occurs rather close to the marrying age. The National Institute for Mental Health says the average age of onset for depression is 32. That's about five years near the average U.S. woman gets married (27 years), and three years for men (29 years). One study, published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica in 2011, conducted a multinational survey of 18 mental disorders and found that out of all 18, depression was one of three disorders associated with the highest risk for divorce and remaining unmarried. The disease can put added, unfamiliar stresses on a relationship. It can cause a spouse to act irrationally, like with spouts of anger, or cause one to act disassociated.
"The marital partner or spouse of the depressed person can feel terribly lonely living with someone who rejects her," says Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist practicing out of Beverly Hills. Walfish notes that feelings of loneliness can be compounded by fear, as a "spouse may be frightened by this peculiar disconnect" brought on by depression, which can put a relationship under strain.
Alcohol abuse, which is also a high-risk factor for divorce and can affect job performance, is more likely to occur in individuals with psychiatric disorders such as depression. An article published by the Psychiatric Times in 2011 sources a survey that found "alcohol-dependent individuals were 3.7 times more likely to have major depression than those without alcohol dependence." Drinking to wash away the pain of depression is a way of self-medicating, but a costly one that can lead to poor on-the-job performance due to tiredness. A study published in "Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research" in 2013 found that alcohol in high doses affects rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which in turn makes sleep less restorative. (Researchers also found that REM sleep is disturbed in stressful environments and note there is a linkage with depression.) Alcohol abuse could also contribute to poor work performance and additional sick days because of hangovers.
Treating depression the right way might not be cheap, but it's not as costly as letting it go unchecked. Lindsey Pollak, career expert and spokesperson for The Hartford's My Tomorrow campaign, which aims to educate workers about employee insurance, recommends disability insurance.
"The Hartford's claims data shows that, after removing pregnancy from the mix, behavioral health, such as depression, is one of the top three reasons that young workers file a disability claim," she said. "If you are unable to work due to a mental health issue, disability insurance - aka paycheck protection - can provide you with a portion of your income and it typically includes resources to help you get back to an active professional and personal life faster."
Pollak notes that larger employers give their employees a window to alter their insurance, which typically falls on the months of September and October.
It's not expensive, either. According to Pollak, the average cost of coverage through an employer is $250 a year, which is peanuts to what it covers. "Disability insurance provides a person with a portion of his income (typically 50 or 60%) that can used as needed, whether it's everyday expenses like groceries, monthly bills like a cell phone bill, or medical costs, says Pollack.
That money could be used for medication costs, which can be burdensome. Anti-depressant prescriptions range from a $10 bottle of generic Celexa to $500 brand name prescriptions such as a monthly dose of 200mg sustained-release Wellbutrin, according to a study by Consumer Reports. Keep in mind many doctors are willing to find the medication that works for your price range, so ask them to work with you. Psychiatric visit costs vary. An article in the New York Times says it can cost $150 (not including initial consultation charges) for a 15-minute session every few months, but that cost can jump into the $600 range from top billers around Manhattan. Regardless, the cost of medication and treatment can be invaluable when compared to the devastating consequences wrought by untreated depression.
--Written by Craig Donofrio for MainStreet