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Depression Intervention Aids Productivity

September 28, 2007
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Systematically identifying and treating employees’ depression symptoms is likely to result in higher job retention, fewer sickness-related absences and increased worker productivity, a study has found.

Harvard Medical School in Boston, Group Health Cooperative’s Center for Health Studies in Seattle, and OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions in Golden Valley, Minnesota, conducted the study, which was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, examined the impact employer-based depression screening, vigorous outreach and care management had on 304 out of 604 depressed workers at 16 national employers that participated in the trial.

The companies ranged in size from 3,000 to 64,000 employees.

“Depression is highly prevalent among the employee population, which comes at a high cost to employers,” says study co-author Francisca Azocar, assistant VP for research and evaluation out of San Francisco for OptumHealth. “Programs are available that can address depression and improve the productivity of their employees.”

Participating employees who screened positive for depression were divided into two groups. The first group received minimal intervention—a letter informing them they tested positive for depression and highlighting possible treatment options.

The latter group received more vigorous outreach through telephonic intervention by the study’s facilitators, who asked employees to participate in treatment options such as in-person therapy or telephone therapy. Employees’ progress was monitored throughout therapy, and their needs were reassessed throughout the process.

The study showed an improvement in clinical symptoms among employees who received the enhanced treatment. An improvement of 2.6 hours per week in overall work productivity, increased job retention, decreased absenteeism because of illness, and an increase in hours worked were additional results of employees receiving the telephonic intervention.

“Enhanced depression care—more than being a cost to the employer—is really an opportunity to invest in employees and it pays back,” Azocar says. “All in all, it’s good for business.

Filed by Kristin Gunderson Hunt of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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