Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Boomer Blues: Depression in the Workplace

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Boomer Blues: Depression in the Workplace

Article excerpt

There are many times people in the workplace feel like Alice; they are confused, upset, and depressed.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, clinical depression strikes more than 17.5 million adults each year, and it costs society approximately $43 billion annually.(2) Experts also estimate that one of every two U.S. families will have some member afflicted with depression sooner or later.(3)

Much of our depression comes from the stress that we experience in the workplace. Stress can be "good" (eustress) or "bad" (distress), and by itself may not significantly alter normal behavior. However, the cumulative effects of stress can cause a person to approach what researchers call a "coping threshold." When that threshold is exceeded, a person's ability to function is at risk.(4)

We are working longer hours than our parents ever did, the equivalent of an extra month a year. Consequences of stress and depression include absenteeism, job turnover, inability to make sound decisions, coronary heart disease, lower productivity, increased smoking and alcohol intake, and fatigue.(5)

This article will discuss the causes and symptoms of depression, the cost of depression in the workplace, and what managers can do to recognize and help "boomers with the blues."

Definition of Depression

It is normal, experts say, for people to feel a certain amount of momentary anxiety over the minor inconveniences of daily living. Everyone has or will have occasional bad days - mornings when you could have stayed in bed rather than face the day. It is not uncommon to hear people say they are depressed when they feel sad, gloomy or emotionally dejected. Clinical depression, however, is characterized by low mood, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, negative attitudes about the sell joylessness, and increased sadness.(6) Clinical depression should be suspected when the signs and symptoms persist over weeks or months and are interfering with work.

Among major diseases, clinical depression ranked second only to advanced coronary heart disease in the total number of days patients spent hospitalized or disabled at home. Yet two-thirds of the estimated 17 million victims of depression each year go undiagnosed and untreated.(7)

Depression is not one condition but several, an array of "affective disorders" that includes "bipolar" depression, the term preferred today for manic-depression, and major but nonmanic (or unipolar) depression. Depression also includes the chronic but not disabling condition known as dysthymia, from the Greek word for "bummed out" and it to the mood what the common cold is to the body.(8) Unfortunately, all forms of depression are becoming increasingly common.

Depression is a "whole-body illness" that is distinguished by its severity, intensity, and the length of time it lasts. If ignored, clinical depression affects how your body feels, determines the kind of mood you are in, what you think, and how you act.(9) Many chronic health disorders, and thus many reimbursable doctor's visits, are thought to be caused by depression. Experts insist that Americans are hampered more by depression than by diabetes, high blood pressure, weak hearts, bad backs, and bad digestive systems combined.(10)

Causes of Depression

Depression is seldom traceable to a single cause. Often it is produced by the interaction of a person's biological predisposition, psychological tendency toward pessimism, feelings of low self-esteem and trauma, or long-term stress. In addition, many people feel the pressure of being overworked and underpaid; others have conflicts with coworkers or supervisors. Some people can't tolerate working in a situation over which they have little control. And it is normal for workers to become angry and disillusioned when they reach the "glass ceiling" and realize their career is blocked.(11) Because the boomers make up such a large cohort of workers, many have experience a plateauing early in their career. …

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