Eighty-three percent of women in the workforce with depression perceive it as the number-one barrier to success in the workplace, according to a study sponsored by the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) and the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), and funded by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. The working women reported behaviors such as leaving work early or not returning from lunch, avoiding contact with coworkers, and being unable to face work as a result of their depression, a condition that affects an estimated 5 million employed American women.
"No one should have to compromise their work potential because they have depression -- this is a very common and treatable condition," said Lynn C. Epstein, M.D., president, AMWA. "Women suffering from depression can seek help through psychotherapy or medication and should accept no less than remission, or virtual elimination, of their emotional and physical symptoms so they can get back to being themselves."
According to the survey, the benefits of treatment are significant. Ninety-four percent of women surveyed noticed improvements at work after seeking treatment (e.g., psychotherapy and/or medication) for depression. Women taking medication showed the highest rates of progress, with 96 percent reporting work improvement, and 68 percent reporting regained relationships with coworkers. Those women who reported that their symptoms were virtually eliminated described themselves as "highly self-confident" and "interested in their growth again."
However, the impact of untreated depression on women in the workforce is substantial. Surveyed women rated it as a greater hindrance in achieving professional success than other barriers in the survey including child- and elder-care responsibilities, pregnancy, and sexual harassment. Eighty-nine percent who quit or lost a job while living with depression attribute the loss to their condition. Nearly one third of respondents said their depression "completely interferes" with their ability to do their job.
While various methods of treatment are available, only 47 percent of the working women with depression who received treatment, sought it immediately. When asked why they did not seek treatment right away, many women reported not knowing where to go for help, as well as pressure from work-related time constraints, fears that insurance would not cover the costs, or worries that they could lose their jobs. Others attributed their delay in seeking treatment to the stigma of depression or to feeling that depression was a sign of weakness or a character flaw.
"Although the stigma associated with depression is decreasing, it continues to be a major factor in preventing women from seeking treatment," said Lea Ann Browning-McNee, M.S., senior vice president of Public Affairs, NMHA. "By raising awareness about the impact of depression on working women, we hope to help women understand that help is available and encourage them to work with their health care providers to find the right treatment for them."
Depression affects approximately 19 million American adults each year and interferes with the ability to work, sleep, eat, study, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. Symptoms of depression may be emotional, such as restlessness and loss of pleasure, and/or physical, such as headache and vague aches and pains.
The American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) is an organization of 10,000 women physicians and medical students dedicated to serving as the unique voice for women's health and the advancement of women in medicine.