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Almost a quarter of South Africa's work force are depressed

5 February 2015 5:04 PM

Research shows 24% of SA employees have been diagnosed as depressed, while a third have not disclosed it.

Health economics company, Hexor, has a conducted a study said to be the first of its kind in the country. The study focused on South Africans within the labour market, ages 18 to 64, and ranging from support staff to executive managers.

CEO of Hexor, Tienie Stander, said that the researchers tried to capture a statistically significant sample of citizens in the workforce. Out of the 1,061 workers surveyed, this is what the study found:

  • 24% had been diagnosed with depression by a healthcare professional in the past 12 months.
  • A third of the depressed respondents had not disclosed their condition to their employer and;
  • 37% attributed this to fear of putting their jobs in jeopardy.
  • Around 54% of those who suffered from depression said it took much longer to complete simple duties;
  • While 50% said they made more mistakes than usual at work.
  • 75% of those depressed will not be productive at work.
  • Also, depression led to an average of 18 days’ sick leave per episode.

Stander said the report did not ask the root cause of participants’ depression, rather they opted to try understand the magnitude and impact of the disease. He asserted that:

Depression is a non-discriminatory disease; it affects everybody in the same way.

The skills, field of expertise, rank or income bracket of the participant had no significance to the prevalence of depression.

Managers are as prone to depression as employees; we could infer that 25% of all managers in South Africa are depressed.

Depression is a mood disorder, thus it affects and changes one’s mood, as well as other physical factors such as weight, diet and sexual appetite. Depression also presents several cognitive disorders that alter one’s thought process.

The survey reported that depression significantly strained worker productivity and presented symptoms affecting decision-making capacity, memory and concentration of three-quarters of those diagnosed.

Stander said that the significance of the study will be realised if South Africans can use it to improve the wellness of companies and employees, and reduce the rates of depression in the workplace.

Stander explained that depression has a direct cost to the economy and creates a fiscal burden on employers, but that there is not enough awareness around it. He reported that the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that depression will become the leading cause of disability worldwide by 2030.

So we need to be pro-active as employers. We need to have policies in place to identify, prevent and to treat this disease.

Ben in Springs shared his experience of disclosure within the work place. He said it is very difficult for people with depression to reveal their condition, because it makes them vulnerable to prejudice:

There is also an organizational culture that alienates the person who is suffering from depression. So the risks are too high, as I’ve learnt in my own case.

Health economics expert talks to Redi Tlhabi about the findings. Redi also talks to callers who share their experiences of depression.

Click here, for more information on depression from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

5 February 2015 5:04 PM