Bipolar disorder exacts twice depression’s toll in workplace

Bipolar disorder costs twice as much in lost productivity as major depressive disorder, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has found. Each U.S. worker with bipolar disorder averaged 65.5 lost workdays in a year, compared to 27.2 for major depression. Even though major depression is more than six times as prevalent, bipolar disorder costs the U.S. workplace nearly half as much — a disproportionately high $14.1 billion annually. Researchers traced the higher toll mostly to bipolar disorder’s more severe depressive episodes rather than to its agitated manic periods. The study by Drs. Ronald Kessler, Philip Wang, Harvard University, and colleagues, is among two on mood disorders in the workplace published in the September 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Their study is the first to distinguish the impact of depressive episodes due to bipolar disorder from those due to major depressive disorder on the workplace. It is based on one-year data from 3378 employed respondents to the National Co-morbidity Survey Replication, a nationally representative household survey of 9,282 U.S. adults, conducted in 2001-2003.

The researchers measured the persistence of the disorders by asking respondents how many days during the past year they experienced an episode of mood disorder. They judged the severity based on symptoms during a worst month. Lost work days due to absence or poor functioning on the job, combined with salary data, yielded an estimate of lost productivity due to the disorders.

Poor functioning while at work accounted for more lost days than absenteeism. Although only about 1 percent of workers have bipolar disorder in a year, compared to 6.4 percent with major depression, the researchers projected that bipolar disorder accounts for 96.2 million lost workdays and $14.1 billion in lost salary-equivalent productivity, compared to 225 million workdays and $36.6 billion for major depression annually in the United States.

About three-fourths of bipolar respondents had experienced depressive episodes over the past year, with about 63 percent also having agitated manic or hypomanic episodes. The bipolar-associated depressive episodes were much more persistent — affecting 134-164 days — compared to only 98 days for major depression. The bipolar-associated depressive episodes were also more severe. All measures of lost work performance were consistently higher among workers with bipolar disorder who had major depressive episodes than those who reported only manic or hypomanic episodes. The latter workers’ lost performance was on a par with workers who had major depressive disorder.

“Major depressive episodes due to bipolar disorder are sometimes incorrectly treated as major depressive disorder,” noted Wang. “Since antidepressants can trigger the onset of mania, workplace programs should first rule out the possibility that a depressive episode may be due to bipolar disorder.”

Future effectiveness trials could gauge the return on investment for employers offering coordinated evaluations and treatment for both mood disorders, he said.

Also participating in the study were: Dr. Kathleen Merikangas, NIMH; Dr. Minnie Ames and Robert Jin, Harvard University; Dr. Howard Birnbaum, Paul Greenberg, Analysis Group Inc.; Dr. Robert Hirschfeld, University of Texas; Dr. Hagop Akiskal, University of California San Diego.

In a related NIMH-funded study in the same issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, Drs. Debra Lerner, David Adler, and colleagues, Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts-New England Medical Center, found that many aspects of job performance are impaired by depression and that the effects linger even after symptoms have improved.

The researchers tracked the job performance and productivity of 286 employed patients with depression and dysthymia, 93 with rheumatoid arthritis and 193 healthy controls recruited from primary care physician practices for 18 months. While job performance improved as depression symptoms waned, even “clinically improved” depressed patients performed worse than healthy controls on mental, interpersonal, time management, output and physical tasks. The arthritis patients showed greater impairment, compared to healthy controls, only for physical job demands.

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 recommended 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.

From NIH

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4 thoughts on “Bipolar disorder exacts twice depression’s toll in workplace”

  1. Well, India was just an example but ironically you proved my point: since people who can’t work in India don’t have to work in India, you can go to India and get motivated people for less than the cost of labor in America. Congratulations on strengthening my argument. The next obvious question is “is this problem prevalent enough in America to justify going elsewhere?” Well, look at this quote from the article:
    “the researchers projected that bipolar disorder accounts for 96.2 million lost workdays and $14.1 billion in lost salary-equivalent productivity, compared to 225 million workdays and $36.6 billion for major depression annually in the United States.”
    That’s enough to make the employers say enough of this crap, in India these asses are sadhus (hah, SADhu, get it?). But India is just an example, it can be any developing country whose workforce seems to be way more motivated than these slouches.
    Obviously, scientists in America aren’t in danger of losing their job. First, if they were cutting school because they needed to stay home and feel sorry for themselves, they wouldn’t be scientists. Second, employers will put up with their demands because they’re the best on the planet.
    As for writers and artists, sure, a few of them make it big. MANY more of them end up being bums who do nothing but drain society and live off money from others. That’s what they get for dropping out of school to do drugs and write poetry.
    What does this have to do with liberalism? A lot. Most importantly though is their contributions to society that lessen individual responsibility. But this isn’t about politics or ideology, so I won’t explain it.

  2. Then Americans wonder why they’re increasingly unable to compete with foreign labor. Lets see, many Americans aren’t doing their jobs because they can’t deal with their depression? GET OVER IT! Leave your baggage at the door, don’t take it to work. If I owned an American company and I had to deal with this crap, I would look for skilled labor elsewhere, like India, where they don’t complain even though they have grown up in horrible conditions, probably because they don’t take their jobs for granted. Liberals are ruining this country!

  3. If you have major depression in India you can go and become a sadhu – drop out an be holy. People will feed you. In America on the other hand pretty much everyone has to participate in the labor force to eat. That may be part of why productivity per worker is higher in America than anywhere, despite incorporating people into the workforce who in places like India are left out.

    As for your idea that Indian skilled labor has “grown up in horrible conditions” – have you been to India? Much of the skilled labor comes out of the middle and upper classes, which together comprise about as many tens of millions as in America – less monetary wealth perhaps, but more servants, and more gold.

    However where the study under discussion gets silly is it fails to quantify the unique contributions of the bipolar, who on the up side of their manic swings are among our most productive scientists, as well as being way over-represented among our best writers and artists. It’s certainly worth extra treatment on their downside, in order to preserve the unique upside benefits.

    What this has to do with “liberalism” in your mind is beyond me. Most effectively exploiting the capabilities of the potential labor force is a conservative value, is it not?

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