German economy burdened by growing rate of depression

Excessive stress and pressure in the workplace are common causes of depression. [Max Boschini/Flickr]

German employees are taking more and more sick leave due to depression, a recent study shows, indicating stress and a lack of leisure time as the likely culprits, causing experts to call for more investment in early recognition and prevention. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Absence from work due to depression has increased almost 70% in Germany from 2000 to 2013.

Similarly, the share of working persons prescribed anti-depressents increased by one-third during the same period to 6%. These are among the findings of a survey on depression among the German labour force, presented by the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) health insurance fund on Wednesday (28 January) in Berlin.

“Absences due to psychological disorders have increased more than 5% compared to the previous year,” said Thomas Grobe from the Institute for Applied Quality Improvement and Research in Health Care (AQUA). “Another increase in these numbers is to be expected for 2015,” said Grobe.

According to the TK study, workers in particularly psychologically strenuous or high pressure work environments are most heavily impacted. Employees in call centres are at the top of the list. Each call centre employee was on depression-related sick leave for an average of 2.8 days in 2013.

The numbers were similarly troubling for geriatric nurses, who took 2.5 days on average in 2013. The study’s national average, showed every employee was unable to work for one day per year due to depression.

Second most common reason for inability to work in Europe

In addition to the considerable personal suffering caused by depression, the condition also comes at a high economic cost. According to EU numbers, 30 million people suffer from depression in all of Europe. And there, the disease is the second most common reason for incapacity to work. The European Commission estimates that EU economies face €120 billion in annual costs due to this burden.

For this reason, former EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said last year that psychological disorders are among today’s main challenges for public health care systems. And shortly after entering office in 2014, the EU’s new Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis pledged “a new boost for health in Europe”.

>>Read: Depression costs European business nearly €100 billion per year

The EU has long already provided assistance for psychological health with money from the European Structural and Investment Fund. The European Alliance Against Depression (EAAD) is also active in 18 countries, fighting this form of suffering with special action programmes.

Half of those affected remain untreated

Still, many gaps remain in the actual implementation of these measures. This is confirmed by surveys of the World Health Organization (WHO), indicating that around 50% of people with depression in Europe still do not receive any form of treatment.

The reasons for this are varied and range from avoidance behaviour due to shame and denial, to a lack of supply, to incompetence among medical personnel to recognise the problem.

“The absences due to depression only partially show how burdened [Germany] is”, warned psychologist York Scheller. “Not everyone who has a form of depression is actually granted sick leave,” he pointed out.

As a result, health researcher Grobe said, early recognition is one of the measures that must urgently be expanded. On average, German health insurance funds spend only three euro per patient annually for depression prevention. But that is precisely where much more should be done, Grobe explained, from improved health checks in companies to prevention courses or avoiding catalysts.

Besides a predisposition, Grobe said excessive stress and lack of separation between work and leisure time are the worst catalysts for depression.

Depression is a common mental disorder, characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression can be long-lasting or recurrent, substantially impairing an individual’s ability to function at work or school or cope with daily life. At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide.

Depression is a disorder that can be diagnosed and treated by non-specialists as part of primary health care.

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