NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Employee Depression Costs Employers Billions

November 8, 1999

What responsibilities do employers have to treat workers who suffer from clinical depression? It is possible to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by installing wheelchair ramps and Braille signs, but mental disorders are less easily identified and treated.

The government gets more disability-act complaints from workers with emotional or psychiatric impairments than from workers with any other kind of disability.

  • In preliminary figures for the fiscal year just ended, 2,681 of the 17,014 complaints filed with the Labor Department concerned emotional or psychiatric impairments -- almost half of which involved depression.
  • It is estimated that clinical depression affect one in 10 Americans over the are of 18.
  • Including the work time lost to the illness and the medical bills for treating it, by some estimates depression costs American businesses $36.2 billion a year.

A study which recently appeared in the journal Health Affairs found that a growing number of employers believe that they should encourage a worker with depression to seek treatment, but they often hesitate because of concerns about how to approach the employee.

And they are not sure about what the law requires. Attempts by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to clarify the law for employers have only muddied the waters, consultants say. But the EEOC is expected to issue yet more guidelines on depression soon.

Source: Barbara Whitaker, "For Employers, Pitfalls in Treating Workplace Depression," New York Times, November 7, 1999.


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