Workplace Stress vs. Depression in an Age of Tumult

A look inside the windows of the workplace reveals a disturbing commentary on our work-life merge.  Work was cited as a significant source of stress for 70% of respondents in the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey. Only concerns about money, trump the daily grind in the workplace.  Furthermore, stress can increase  worker angst to the point of illness, and consequently can fuel a state of depression.

Notice the language I used, “stress can fuel a state of depression.” I’m pointing this out because stress is different from depression. As I wrote about in a recent Forbes post: Tackling Workplace Depression as a Productivity Strategy, depression is a clinical diagnosis with specific criteria and can have different consequences.

“Depression has a very clear impact to one’s effectiveness at work, including trouble concentrating, making decisions, problems associated with sleep disturbance, absenteeism, etc.,” says Clare Miller, Director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health.

The Partnership has joined with Employers Health, an Ohio-based employer coalition, to design a new workplace human resources toolkit to decrease the stigma associated with depression.

Signs of depression can vary depending on the person.  If one is experiencing a number of the following symptoms on a daily basis without any relief, it could be a red flag according to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but only a trained therapist should be making a diagnosis:

  • Changes in appetite that result in weight losses or gains unrelated to dieting
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide

The Numbers: Stress vs. Depression

Statistics from the World Health Organization indicate that American businesses lose $300 billion annually from lost productivity due to stress. The lost annual productivity due to depression is pegged at $44 billion according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The distinctions made between stress and depression might not sound significant to a layman’s ear, but the approaches to treatment and the long-range implications of depression at work, are costly to the individual and the organization.  As noted in a study at Tufts School of Medicine, workplace stressors can further worsen the absenteeism and presenteeism of employees impaired by depression.

Many companies have Employee Assistance Programs to address stress and depression. It’s in the company’s interest to promote the availability of such resources, to intervene early and keep mental health issues from worsening.

I’ve been writing quite bit about stress at work at These posts elaborate a bit more about stress in the workplace.

Stress is Bunk for Business

Employee Stress can Quash Creativity and Creative Edge

Should companies be more concerned with a stressed or depressed workforce that could be approaching burnout? Is big business feeling the pain of an exhausted workforce? Please share your thoughts. Also, continue the conversation on Twitter: @JudyMartin8.

  • Susan Silver

    Thank you Judy for writing on this important topic. The rate of depression in the workforce is disturbing when you look at the numbers. Bottom line it is bad for business. I will be reading your other posts and sharing. It is important that we get the word out about how much the stigma of depression stops people from seeking help.


    The depression is very dangerous to the health…Weight loss or gain…And not proper mind set up..And off course it is workplace and age …Both affects equal.