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Depression Has Steep Price For Businesses

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revi

Depression takes a huge toll on America’s businesses, the workforce, the economy, and, quite often, the elderly.

More than 11 million Americans - most with jobs - are afflicted at any one time, according to a special report by Business & Health magazine.

The disorder costs businesses $44 billion a year in lost productivity, absenteeism, treatment, and suicide-related expenses. It contributes to morale problems, substance abuse, poor quality work, high turnover and accidents.

Dr. Henry Berman, president of Group Health Northwest in Spokane, once characterized depression as the least understood, most under-diagnosed disease in America.

“Most people - including doctors - do not recognize depression when it is present,” says Dr. Paul Quinnett, director of Greentree Behaviorial Health in Spokane.

The good news about depression, says Quinnett, is that businesses are discovering that how employees feel about themselves affects their performance on the job. “Companies are coming to realize,” says Quinnett, “that if you educate and encourage employees to get help, it affects the bottom line positively.”

Unfortunately, he says, under managed care, which continues its rapid expansion, “we tend to recognize, accept and pay for physical problems, but not psychological ones.” This, even though the treatment of depression is more cost effective.

The success rate for treating coronary heart disease, which is very well recognized and carries roughly the same economic price tag, is much lower than for treating depression, studies show.

The same is true for AIDS, which has an adverse economic impact of $66 billion a year, and cancer, which costs the country $104 billion a year.

In short, says Quinnett, there is a national lack of awareness about the huge return on investment that treating depression represents.

“Only one in three persons with a depressive disorder in America seeks medical treatment,” says the expert. “Ten million people a year don’t get any help at all.”


For one thing, there’s a social stigma attached to seeking treatment for any manner of mental problems. A national survey found that 43 percent of people view depression as a personal weakness.

A big national drive is currently under way to redefine depression as a brain disorder. “If we say that what’s wrong with you is that your Seratonin (brain chemistry) levels are low because you have been undergoing a lot of stress,” says Quinnett, “that would be more acceptable to more people.”

Another reason is the social stigma of getting old in America.

A member of the Spokane mental health community for a quarter of a century, Quinnett says the incidence of depression is especially accute among the elderly. People tend to write it off as a natural consequence of aging, which Quinnett says is erroneous, grossly unfair, and another instance of ageism in our society.

“In our cultural view of getting old in America,” says Quinnett, “our attitude is, ‘Well, you ought to be depressed - you’re over 65. What the hell did you expect?’ It’s like having a heart attack. Sure, you’re depressed - you had a heart attack.

“But just because you’re old - or just because you had a heart attack - that doesn’t mean you get clinically depressed,” says Quinnett. “And if you do, it can be treated, and you get well.

“Even so, a lot of folks won’t hear of it. So we have depression rates for elders living at home as high as 30 percent. In nursing homes it’s 50 percent.”

There are nine symptoms, says Quinnett, and you have to have five to be depressed:

Feeling low for more than two weeks.

A diminished interest in pleasurable activities.

A significant change in appetite or weight.

Sleep disturbance.

Extreme restlessness or sluggishness.

Chronic fatigue.

Inappropriate guilt.

Feeling useless and helpless.

Recurrent thoughts of suicide.

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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