Depression costing Europe £77 billion

LSE and King’€™s College report suggests employers need to do more to tackle mental illness and limit costs to business

A new report by the London School of Economics and Political Science and King’s College London estimates that depression is currently costing European businesses £77 billion a year, with the greatest economic loss occurring through absenteeism and lost productivity.

The report, published in PLOS ONE on 12 March, reveals that although 30 million people in Europe – and 350 million people worldwide – struggle with depression, many workplaces seriously underestimate its impact. 

In a recent survey of 500 UK employers, more than half believed that employees suffering from stress and depression could still work effectively, but new data from a study of 7000 people contradicts this belief.

LSE’s Professor Martin Knapp and Dr Sara Evans-Lacko from King’s College analysed a large cross-European survey encompassing seven European countries.

As well as discovering the major financial cost to European business, their analysis concluded that:

  • 20-55 per cent of employees diagnosed with depression in Europe take time off work due to the illness.
  • Female, divorced, part-time workers are more likely to suffer depression.
  • University-educated professionals are less likely to take time off work when depressed and, if they do, are reluctant to tell their employer the reason why.
  • 20% of employed people report having a previous diagnosis of depression.
  • Italians are less likely to reveal a prior diagnosis of depression compared to people in the UK and Turkey.
  • Managers in Denmark are more sympathetic towards depressed employees and less likely to discriminate against them than their European counterparts.
  • Managers in France and Spain are the most likely to recommend that the employee seek help from a healthcare professional for their depression. 

Professor Knapp said: “According to the World Health Organisation, depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide and has significant economic consequences.

“Despite a lot of publicity surrounding mental illness, it is worrying to see that there is still a major stigma associated with depression and many employers are not dealing with it adequately.”

The report finds that flexible working hours and time off is not necessarily the best strategy – especially in isolation – because it doesn’t promote the social inclusion a depressed person needs. 

A better option to tackle mental illness in the workplace is for managers to offer direct help to depressed employees.

Managers who avoid discussing an employee’s depression are only adding to the general ignorance of mental illness and not helping either the company or the staff member, the report says.

“Managers have an important role to play by creating supportive working environments that promote social acceptance,” Dr Evans-Lacko said. “By doing so, their employees will feel more secure discussing any potential mental health issues.” 

The paper, “Importance of social and cultural factors for attitudes, disclosure and time off work for depression: findings from a seven country European study on depression in the workplace”, is published in PLOS ONE.

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