Workplace hurdle

Depression has lingering effects on job performance

Many aspects of job performance are impaired by depression, and the effects linger even after symptoms have improved, according to research done at Tufts.

For 18 months, Debra Lerner, associate professor of medicine, and Dr. David Adler, professor of psychiatry, tracked the job performance and productivity of 286 employed patients with depression; 93 with rheumatoid arthritis and 193 healthy controls recruited from primary-care physician practices. While job performance improved as depression symptoms waned, even “clinically improved” depressed patients performed worse than the healthy control subjects on mental, interpersonal, time management, output and physical tasks. The arthritis patients showed greater impairment, compared to the healthy control subjects, but only for physical job demands.

The research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, was published in the September issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Noting that 44 percent of the depressed patients were already taking antidepressants when they began the study and still met clinical criteria for depression—and that job performance continued to suffer despite some clinical improvement—the researchers recommend that the goal of depression treatment should be remission. They also suggest that health professionals pay more attention to recovery of work function and that workplace supports be developed—perhaps through employee assistance programs and worksite occupational health clinics—to help depressed patients better manage job demands.