It may be in society's and employers' best interests to offer programs that actively seek out and treat depression in the workforce, suggests an analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). A simulation based on dozens of studies revealed that providing a minimal level of enhanced care for employees' depression would result in a cumulative savings to employers of $2,898 per 1,000 workers over 5 years. Even though the intervention would initially increase use of mental health services, it ultimately would save employers money, by reducing absenteeism and employee turnover costs, according to Drs. Philip Wang and Ronald Kessler, of Harvard University, and colleagues, who report on their findings in the December 2006 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.
"Depression exacts economic costs totaling tens of billions of dollars annually in the United States, mostly from lost work productivity," noted Wang. "Yet we're not making the most of available services and treatments. Our study calculates what employers' return on their investment would be if they purchased enhanced depression treatment programs for their workers."
The analysis simulated an enhanced intervention in which master's-level health professionals managed the care of a hypothetical group of 40-year-old depressed workers diagnosed with depression. In this scenario, after assessments had detected the workers' depression, the care managers did further assessments and, when necessary, referred the workers for treatment in this scenario. The researchers gauged the cost-effectiveness for society and cost-benefit to employers, using data from existing trials and epidemiological studies, including the National Co-morbidity Survey Replication, a nationally representative household survey of 9,282 U.S. adults, conducted in 2001-2003.