Workplace Depression Across Eight Countries Said to Cost $246 Billion

Study includes nations that differ in economic development, income, and culture

Workplace depression is a major issue across different cultures and economies, with “wide and devastating” consequences for thousands of organizations worldwide, according to data from researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

In a study of eight countries spanning diverse cultures and gross domestic product (GDP), the researchers found that depression is collectively costing the nations of Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, and the United States more than $246 billion a year (in U.S. dollars). This is the first study of its kind in the world to analyze the impact of depression on workplace productivity across a range of countries that differ both culturally and economically.

Data from a survey of 8,000 employees across these countries reveals that more highly educated employees, in particular, have a more negative impact if they remain at work while depressed. This is because they are more likely to manage others, and the knock-on effects are felt down the line.

The findings follow on the heels of a major European study on workplace depression by the same researchers in March 2014, signaling an urgent need for employers to take a more proactive approach to tackling mental health issues.

Lead researcher Dr. Sara Evans-Lacko says the enormous costs of depression due to absence and loss of productivity are set to increase unless governments and employers make it a priority.

The study, published online in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, also reveals:

  • On average, 1.2% of a country’s GDP is lost due to workers with depression attending work while unwell (i.e., presenteeism).
  • Absenteeism is higher than presenteeism in Japan due to people’s fear of losing their job if their depression is revealed at work.
  • The costs of employees attending work while dealing with depression is five to 10 times higher than those who take time off work to recover from depression.
  • The United States ($84.7 billion) and Brazil ($63.3 billion) experience the highest productivity losses due to presenteeism.
  • Less than 10% of respondents in China (6.4%) and South Korea (7.4%) reported having a previous diagnosis of depression compared to more than 20% in Canada, 22.7% in the U.S., and 25.6% in South Africa.
  • Asian countries report lower productivity losses due to depression, attributed in part to a cultural reluctance to disclose mental health issues, so the actual figures (above) relating to China and South Korea are likely to be higher.
  • Japan, however, has the highest per person costs associated with employees taking time off for depression, with 22% (costing $14 billion) of people taking 21 or more days. This suggests that employees stay at work longer until their depression is severe.
  • In South Africa, nearly twice as many employees reported a previous diagnosis of depression (25.6%) in comparison with the average (15.7%) reported across the eight countries.

Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting up to 350 million people, according to the World Health Organization.

“These findings suggest that depression is an issue deserving global attention, regardless of a country’s economic development, national income, or culture,” Dr. Evans-Lacko says. “The growth of mental illness worldwide also suggests the scale of the problem is likely to increase.”

The data provide compelling evidence for global workplace programs to be implemented to address mental health issues, Dr. Evans-Lacko adds. “Interventions which support employees with depression need to be developed, adapted, implemented and evaluated across all countries to mitigate the high costs of workplace depression.”

Source: LSE; September 26, 2016.