European business leaders join forces to target depression in the workplace

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Mental health campaigners’ efforts to persuade employers to combat mental ill health at work took a significant step forward today when, for the first time, senior European executives from a group of major employers, including BT Group, Barclays, and Unilever, came together to assess and address depression in the workplace. One in 10 employees in Europe is estimated to take time off work due to depression, which equates to more than 34 million people. The “Target Depression in the Workplace” initiative recommends concrete tools and resources that will enable company executives to better identify and support employees with depression, as well as promote good mental health at work.

“The catastrophic impact depression can have on the individual and their family is well acknowledged, but largely unresolved is the impact depression has on work,” said Professor Martin Knapp, Professor of Social Policy and Co-Director of LSE Health and Social Care.

“New research has shown that an average of 36 days is taken off work per episode of depression.  Across the European working population this could mean something approaching 1 billion working days lost to depression.  The economic impact is potentially enormous, and this does not take into consideration the reduced productivity of people who keep on working while they are depressed.”

Depression has a direct impact on company profit due to presenteeism (attending work whilst ill) and absenteeism. The cognitive symptoms of depression – concentration difficulties, indecisiveness, and/or forgetfulness – are present up to 94 per cent of the time in an episode of depression and cause significant impairment in work function. People with depression report on average 5.6 hours per week of total health-related lost productivity time more than those without depression.

Some of the largest employers in Europe, including Royal Mail Group Ltd, BT Group plc, Barclays, Unilever and Deutsche Post DHL, that collectively employ over 600,000 people in Europe and generate revenues of almost €200 billion annually, have formed a Steering Committee with the aim to come up with concrete action to help other businesses reduce the impact of depression. The Steering Committee includes representation from the Federation of European Employers and the International Labour Organization.

“Mental health is the dominant workplace health issue of our time.  Work can either be beneficial or harmful to mental health and employers can make a major contribution to the wellbeing of society by their actions,” said Dr Paul Litchfield, BT Group plc Chief Medical Officer and Target Depression in the Workplace Steering Committee Advisor.

“Combatting depression has been a priority for BT for many years and is an integral part of our Mental Health Framework which has delivered significant business benefits as well as helping very many of our people.  Through the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, we are looking forward to working with other employers to drive best practice to a higher level and to disseminate it as widely as possible.”

Target Depression in the Workplace is chaired by Bill Wilkerson, Executive Chairman Mental Health International. Vice Chair is John Duncan, Group HR Director at Royal Mail Group Ltd.

“We believe there is a huge need for the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, which will help us tackle one of the leading public health problems facing the working population of Europe”, said Bill Wilkerson, Executive Chairman of Mental Health International and Target Depression in the Workplace Chair.

“As part of a global effort, we aim to provide valuable tools and resources which will benefit companies, not just in Europe but worldwide, to alleviate both the personal and economic burden of depression.”