To coincide with European Depression Day 2012, the European Depression Association released the first findings of the Impact of Depression in the Workplace in Europe Audit (“IDEA”), a study into depression in the workforces of seven European countries.  

The key finding was that one in ten workers has taken time off for depression, and on first glance it makes discouraging reading for Britain compared to our mainland counterparts.  Of 7,000 employees across Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey, Britain was found to have the highest diagnosis rate at 26%. In comparison sunny Italy had the lowest rate at only 12%.  It was also found that British employees take the most time off work due to depression with an average of 41 days against an average of 36.  

Spoof website, thepoke.co.uk, attempted to explain both the reason behind the findings and the solution:  

Living and working in a s…tty country like Britain makes you feel s…tty.  We suggest people consider working somewhere with nice weather [and] sensible tax rates”.  

Most helpful, thank you.  Don’t ring us.  There may however be a positive explanation behind Britain’s second-division statistics.   

Emer O’Neill, Chief Executive of the Depression Alliance http://www.depressionalliance.org/, champions the UK’s recent development in this area. “We’ve got much better over the last six or seven years in this country at identifying depression…People themselves have got better at recognising it, and doctors have got better at diagnosing it and supporting patients”. Britain’s high figures could therefore be a consequence of this progress.  Against that, we hear stories of doctors seeking to avoid the possible adverse insurance consequences of a depression diagnosis by referring to “low mood” instead, a complaint no doubt shared by the employer on receipt of the sickness certificate.  

The IDEA survey reports that the majority of British managers feel they could count on their HR department when dealing with an employee with depression which was not a view widely held across the other countries looked at.  It also found that 25% of employees did not tell their employer about their depression until they were forced to take time off with it and 33% agreed that the reason behind this omission was that they felt it would put their employment at risk.  

Employers would be prudent to have policies and training in place to help managers recognise and manage depression in the workplace. Having a clear policy in place may also encourage employees to be upfront about their condition, both with their employer and doctor.