Employees struggling with depression take less time off from work if they receive support and help from their managers, a new study suggests.
Many people suffer depression at some point during their working lives. But they often don't disclose their condition or seek help because they're afraid of repercussions, according to the researchers.
Data from 15 countries
The new findings, based on surveys in 15 countries, show the value of active mental health workplace policies, the study authors said.
"Manager reactions to employees with depression can reflect broad cultural and organisational features that directly relate to employee productivity," Sara Evans-Lacko and colleagues concluded.
Evans-Lacko is in the social services research unit at the London School of Economics and Political Science in England.
For the study, her team analysed data from a survey of more than 16 000 employees and their managers in the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey.
Nearly 3 000 of the workers said they were or had been depressed.
Good news for South Africans
In general, managers in Asian countries tended to avoid employees with depression and were less likely to offer active support than managers in other parts of the world. Managers in Japan and South Korea were least likely to offer help to employees with depression, while those in Mexico and South Africa were most likely to do so, the investigators found.
This is good news for South Africans, considering that more than 9.7% of the population suffer from depression. Recent statistics show that one in four South African workers suffer from depression.
Managers in South Korea and China were the most likely to avoid talking about depression with workers. Managers in Canada, Denmark and Great Britain were least likely to avoid the topic, the study authors said.
In countries where managers tended to avoid dealing with depression, employees with depression took more days off from work than those in countries where managers were more likely to offer help and support, the findings showed.
Effective policies and practices
The study also found that workers with higher levels of education took more time off for depression than those with less education.
Also, males aged 45 to 64 with medium to low levels of education were more likely than younger men to go into work despite depression, according to the report that was published online on 23 July 2018 in BMJ Open.
While the study can't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship, the findings strengthen "the economic case for supporting the development and implementation of effective policies and practices for managers to be able to actively support an employee with depression", the researchers said in a journal news release.
"The business case for intervention through better managerial response is exemplified by the substantial costs associated with mental health problems and evidence from a number of studies that mental health can improve through workplace programmes, with economic benefits to employers," the study authors wrote.
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