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Work Foundation - Greater evidence-based help needed for depressed workers

At any one time around 1 in 6 people of working age are experiencing a common mental health condition such as depression or anxiety

Symptoms of depression, including poor concentration and negative thinking, influence employment outcomes, and can be a considerable barrier to employment.

The most effective interventions, including a range psychological therapies and specialist employment support services, are not widely accessible, nor available in a timely fashion. Current provision is insufficient to make a real change to employment outcomes.

National and local government agencies need to work together, with employers and the voluntary sector to improve understanding about depression in the working age population, and improve access to evidence-based support.

A report from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation published today (21st May 2015) recommends that in order to improve both productivity and health and wellbeing among those of working age, more concerted action must be taken to support people with depression to stay in and to return to work. We call upon government departments at a national and regional level to work together to drive this agenda forward, and commit to improving the provision of evidence-based support to help people with depression achieving vocational outcomes.

The paper, Symptoms of Depression and their Effects on Employment, considers the ways in which some of the symptoms associated with depression can form a barrier to employment. The paper adds to evidence around the effects that mental health conditions can have on an individual’s ability to remain in or to find work. 

Depression is a heterogeneous condition, associated with a range of symptoms. Authors Karen Steadman and Tyna Taskila explore which symptoms are most likely to affect employment outcomes, and which interventions are seen as the most effective in supporting people who experience depression to remain in or return to work. It finds that the most effective interventions, including a range psychological therapies and specialist employment support services, are not widely accessible, nor available in a timely fashion.

The research also highlighted the generally poor recognition of the symptoms most likely to influence employment – including ‘cognitive symptoms’ such as poor concentration, difficulty with decision making, and negative thinking. Where health care professionals do not recognise these symptoms they may go untreated, while poor awareness of employers may lead to the misinterpretation of symptoms as poor performance.

The report outlines recommendations which seek to increase the awareness and understanding of the symptoms of depression and how they affect job retention and job seeking, these are summarised as:

  1. Working better together – encouraging joint-working of government departments, working with local partners and the voluntary sector, and engaging with employers to deal with this cross—cutting concern.
  2. Promoting the concept of employment as a health outcome – encouraging health care professionals to view employment as a treatment outcome for patients with depression.
  3. Enhancing understanding and recognition of the symptoms of depression – Improving specialist knowledge about the complexities of depression within a range of health and vocational support services.
  4. Improving access to job retention support – increasing access to Access to Work, and improving out-of-hours access to treatment services. The NHS should lead by example and provide best practice support to its own employees.
  5. Improving access to evidence-based interventions - building the evidence base on what works in employment support for people with depression, and promoting and funding those evidence-based services which are already available.
  6. Developing a welfare system that supports individuals with depression – reviewing back to work support through a depression lens, including expanding measures to include progress towards employment.

Commenting on the paper, Emer O’Neill, Chief Executive, The Depression Alliance said: “People with depression can and want to work. For many the stigma and lack of knowledge about depression from employers and colleagues is often the reason that people lose their jobs. This paper demonstrates the need for training and practical support that can make life so much easier for all. We welcome this report and the opportunity to support employers and employees in developing effective ways to improve well-being within their work place and across the country.”

Commenting on the paper, Professor Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness, at Lancaster University’s The Work Foundation, said: "Depression is a social and clinical condition, which is associated with increased social exclusion, and lower employment rates. Negative and discriminatory attitudes towards depression, and mental health conditions in general, can present a considerable barrier to employment. For many people this results in an unwillingness to be open about their health condition and consequently a failure to access appropriate support to manage their symptoms, both in health and in employment settings, which would help them to remain in or return to work. The symptoms of depression currently present very real barriers to working, but by improving access to the right support, and with the right attitudes, they need not continue to be."

Notes to Editors:

  1. Authors Karen Steadman and Tyna Taskila are all available for interviews, blogs, briefings and written comments.
  2. This research has been supported financially by a grant from Lundbeck. The authors had final editorial control of the report and the recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of Lundbeck.
  3. Lancaster University’s Work Foundation transforms people’s experience of work and the labour market through high quality applied research that empowers individuals and influences public policies and organisational practices. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.

Media enquiries:

Karen Steadman, The Work Foundation:

Ian Boyden, Lancaster University:

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