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Managing Depression in the Workplace

Workplace depression

Despite growing awareness of the issue, many workplaces still struggle with what to do to help individuals experiencing depression. Researchers at the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) are conducting a research project to understand the practices employers are currently using to support employees who have experience with depression.

A systematic review of the scientific literature has been completed to help identify current practices in managing and implementing depression-related support programs in the workplace. For this systematic review (an update of a 2012 review) the team conducted a literature search that identified studies that were potentially eligible for inclusion. Of these, 27 studies met all inclusion criteria: they involved a work-related intervention; focused on workers with depression; had a comparison group; had return to work or staying at work as an outcome; and were of high or medium quality when it came to the research methods used.

Most of the included studies were conducted in the Netherlands, the U.S. or Canada. There were 13 intervention types covered. The majority of the studies (18 out of 27) examined some form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A few studies looked at coordination of services and enhanced care management. The remaining one-off articles focused on various interventions such as strength training, aerobic training, relaxation training, stress reduction, part-time sick leave, nature-based rehabilitation and psychodynamic psychotherapy. As the single studies didn't provide enough evidence of effectiveness, the review team did not comment on these latter interventions.

Some of the initial findings from this review have been shared in a recent presentation. These findings include key message for workers managing and experiencing symptoms of depression both in and out of the workplace.

For workers managing their symptoms (IN the workplace):

  • CBT is effective, with or without work-focus.

For workers experiencing a work absence (OUT of the workplace):

  • There is a gradient effect that suggests that workers need more therapeutic support AND a focus on identifying work-relevant strategies related to their Return To Work (RTW).

Regarding the prevention of recurrences of work absence:

  • There is work to be done to find effective approaches to help prevent recurrent work absence.

Further to the findings from the systematic review, the team also conducted consultations with workplace practitioners and workers. The consultations included surveys, focus groups, and interviews with human resources (HR) professionals, disability management professionals, occupational health and safety practitioners, and more. The aim was to find out what types of support they provide to workers with depression. The team also surveyed workers for their experiences receiving support-or not-for their depression at work.

Based on both the systematic review and the consultation, the team developed a free guide on strategies to support employees with depressive symptoms.

To learn more download the Managing Depression in the Workplace Guide 2018.