Even if Depression is Treated, It Costs Employers

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Depression is the leading cause of disability among Americans aged 15 to 44, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Many employers are concerned that workers with depression stay home sick more often than healthy colleagues.

"Even when depressed patients are treated with antidepressants, there are substantial productivity losses. Therapies that can better manage depression may provide opportunities for savings to employers," the Thomson Reuters research team wrote in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"Despite the widely acknowledged effectiveness of antidepressant therapy, productivity costs related to depression persist even after patients receive treatment," said Suellen Curkendall, director of outcomes research at Thomson Reuters and the lead author of the study.

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"This may be due to the fact that patients often don't respond to the first type of antidepressant that they are prescribed. They also may fail to take their medications on a regular basis," Curkendall added.

Curkendall investigated insurance claims and employee health and productivity data on more than22,000 people being treated with antidepressants. She compared them to people without depression. What was discovered was that people who work who had been treated for depression were twice as likely as others to use short-term disability leave, they found. Disability-related costs for a year, on average, were $1,038 for patients treated for depression and $325 for the non-depressed workers.

"Over 40 percent of patients with depression were diagnosed with at least one of the other included psychiatric conditions besides depression," the researchers at Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters, added. The most common conditions included anxiety and somatoform disorders.

A team at the University of Pennsylvania just last month discovered that only patients with very severe depression were measurably helped by antidepressant drugs. Mild to severe depression might be better treated with alternatives to antidepressant drugs, they wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

At least 27 million Americans take antidepressants and more than 164 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written in 2008, totaling nearly $10 billion in U.S. sales and $20 billion globally, according to IMS Health.

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