Richard Hawkey
Richard Hawkey

Depression costs economy millions

By GLYNNIS HORNING Time of article published Feb 10, 2015

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Depression is costing South African employers and the economy millions by affecting not only mood, as previously thought, but mental functioning and work performance, a new study suggests.

Conducted for the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) by Health Econometrix and Outcomes Research (heXor), the study analysed input from 1 060 workers and managers aged 18 to 64 from different educational, income and ethnic groups.

A quarter had been diagnosed with depression by a health-care professional, and more than half knew or thought they knew someone at their workplace who had had depression, said Dr Tienie Stander, chief executive of heXor, who announced the findings at a function held by Lundbeck in Johannesburg last week.

“Depression is a non-discriminatory disease,” he said. It impacts senior and junior employees alike, though the incidence is higher for women aged 25 to 44 and married people.

Of those who had had depression, three quarters reported trouble concentrating, forgetfulness and indecisiveness during that time. More than half took longer to complete simple jobs and made more mistakes than usual. Almost as many (46 percent) had difficulty making decisions. Only half took time off work, on average 18 days.

“What could this say about the level of performance achieved by the other half, who continued working – especially when considering the commonly-experienced cognitive symptoms of poor concentration, forgetfulness and indecisiveness?” said Cassey Chambers, operations director of Sadag.

In the study, a third of those diagnosed with depression chose not to disclose it. They feared being penalised because of the stigma, she said.

Employers and employees needed to be better informed about depression and its signs, said guest speaker Richard Hawkey. A senior manager in a blue-chip company until severe clinical depression caused him to burn out, he has written of his experiences in Life Less Lived.

“People think depression is about crying and withdrawing,” he said. “But we often become grumpy and cynical. We push though, because we get used to being that way, and we see others are like that, so we think it must be normal. We have disproportionate anger outbursts and become time urgent control freaks. Then one day we can’t get out of bed in the morning…”

Hawkey stayed in bed a week and never returned to work.

He has made a new life as a public speaker and productivity consultant, but said the cost to employers was invariably high. They needed to source replacements, and it took on average nine to 18 months to get them “fully up to speed”.

Employers needed to be better informed about depression and its signs, and to encourage early and appropriate treatment, he said.

Although each case was different, it was possible to achieve results in four to six weeks with medication and/or cognitive behavioural therapy, depending on the severity of the case and the person’s circumstances.

“For employees, it’s about taking responsibility and changing your lifestyle fundamentally. Don’t wait until you have a nervous breakdown,” he said. It was important to have “preventive maintenan-ce” and “scheduled downtime”.

“I’m more productive now and work fewer hours because I’m looking after other aspects of my life,” Hawkey said.

“Companies need your ability to be engaged and passionate and creative – that’s the human element. Computers can do the rest.”

Globally, the socio-economic costs of depression were last estimated at E92 billion (R1 188bn) in 2010, said Stander, and this was set to soar.

Psychiatrist and clinical psychologist, Dr Frans Korb, said depression was the world’s third most common burden of disease. “It’s predicted to be the first by 2030. We need to tackle it.”

* For information about depression call Sadag 0800 21 22 23, sms 31393 or visit

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