$1 trillion: Economic burden of depression

Surgeon general proposes five key pillars for supporting worker mental health

$1 trillion: Economic burden of depression

The pervasive impact of depression on the global economy is ringing alarm bells, with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy underscoring the staggering cost of this mental health challenge.

In a stark warning, Murthy reveals that depression alone imposes a significant burden, totaling approximately $1 trillion annually, according to Fortune.

As health officials intensify their focus on the escalating loneliness epidemic, Dr. Murthy emphasizes the intricate connection between loneliness, social isolation, and the rising prevalence of depression.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that roughly 280 million people, constituting 5% of adults worldwide, grapple with depression—a mental health disorder that adversely affects various facets of daily life, from sleep and appetite to decision-making, focus, time management, and social connections.

“The impact on the global economy of depression alone is around $1 trillion each year. That’s profound,” asserts Dr. Murthy in Fortune, emphasizing the magnitude of the economic toll. He further highlights that this estimation does not encompass the additional financial implications of anxiety and other physical illnesses associated with loneliness and isolation.

According to WHO, risks to mental health at work can include:

  • under-use of skills or being under-skilled for work
  • excessive workloads or work pace, understaffing
  • long, unsocial or inflexible hours
  • lack of control over job design or workload
  • unsafe or poor physical working conditions
  • organizational culture that enables negative behaviours
  • limited support from colleagues or authoritarian supervision
  • violence, harassment or bullying
  • discrimination and exclusion
  • unclear job role
  • under- or over-promotion
  • job insecurity, inadequate pay, or poor investment in career development
  • conflicting home/work demands.

5 key pillars to supporting mental health at work

In response to the escalating rates of loneliness and mental health challenges, Dr. Murthy has outlined a strategic advisory, delineating ways in which workplaces can proactively support the mental health of their employees. Fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that combats, rather than exacerbates, loneliness and mental health issues is paramount for workplace success, he says in Fortune.

A positive well-being at work not only enhances employee satisfaction and engagement but also contributes to increased productivity.

“Our mental health is the fuel that allows us to show up in our life, at work, and at home in our communities,” says Dr. Murthy, underscoring the intricate relationship between mental health and overall productivity. The struggle with mental health, he notes, significantly impacts workplace productivity, engagement, retention, and absenteeism.

Dr. Murthy proposes five key pillars for supporting worker mental health, urging workplaces to:

  1. Protect workers from harm
  2. Support community and connection
  3. Optimize work-life harmony
  4. Create opportunities for workers to grow
  5. Ensure employees know they and their work matter

Especially in the era of the pandemic and remote work, Dr. Murthy emphasizes in Fortune the urgency for leaders to prioritize mental health support for employees, citing the potential for myriad positive outcomes. Acknowledging that engaged employees are critical for a company's bottom line, he urges employers to view mental health support not just as an interest but as a responsibility, benefiting both the organization and the broader community.

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