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Eliminating the stigma of workplace depression

A coalition of 300 U.S. businesses and the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health are hoping that employers will take a step in the right direction by striving to eliminate the workplace stigmas typically associated with depression.

The groups joined together to launch an online initiative in May 2013 called the Right Direction, and the new website offers an array of resources designed to increase awareness about the debilitating effects of depression and to encourage people who may suffer from the chronic condition to seek help.

The website features articles and checklists that explain how to identify the warning signs of depression. The resources also encourage people to reach out and help others, emphasizing that it’s a sign of strength and compassion to assist those in need.

“A growing number of businesses are becoming more aware about the negative impact employees who are depressed can have on their organizations,” said Clare Miller, director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, an affiliate of the American Psychiatric Foundation in Arlington, Va. “So when the Employers Health Coalition Inc. approached us with the idea of creating an online resource for employers and their employees, we knew it was a good idea and the right time to launch this website.”

The initiative’s primary goal is to increase awareness of depression’s debilitating effects and to encourage anyone who needs care to seek it. The website has two components: One focuses on providing information to employers on implementing workplace awareness campaigns. The second component aims to help individuals who might be struggling with depression or who know someone who might have a problem. All resources on the website are free.

According to Miller, the website offers information that human resource professionals should find particularly helpful, such as downloadable PowerPoint presentations and printable posters.

HR professionals from several member companies of the Canton, Ohio-based Employers Health Coalition Inc. review the website’s materials and information. Miller said their feedback and suggestions have been invaluable in helping to hone the website’s message and improve the resources available.

Response to the initiative has been enthusiastic, and traffic to the website brisk, according to Miller. During the first month online, the Right Direction page had approximately 2,500 visits and more than 7,000 page views. In addition, more than 400 people registered to participate in two webcasts that introduced and explained the resources and tools featured on the webpage. Miller said traffic on the Right Direction site should continue to increase during the next few months, especially as National Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct. 6-12) and National Depression Screening Day (Oct. 10) approach.

“The bottom line is that response to Right Direction has been very good,” Miller said. “And we’re confident that it will have a very positive impact on employers and their employees. The cost of depression -- both in economic terms and personal tolls -- is very high, and we believe the new initiative can help reduce those costs.”

A study conducted by the Harvard University Medical School in 2011 calculated that untreated mental illness costs U.S. businesses $105 billion in lost productivity every year. And additional studies from the National Institutes of Health have estimated that depression in the workplace may cost employers as much as $44 billion a year in lost productivity and employee absenteeism.

“The economic impact depression has on business is pretty well known and documented,” Miller said. “So I take it as a very encouraging sign that more employers want to raise employee awareness and find help for those who need it.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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