China / Hot Issues

Depression takes toll on Chinese employees, survey shows

By Shan Juan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-16 03:42

About 70 percent of Chinese workers diagnosed with depression have taken time off from work because of the illness, and more than half of the depressed employees reported impaired work performance, according to a new survey.

The survey, the first of its kind in the country, showed 53 percent of employers polled want stronger legislation and government policies to help employees with depression.

The China survey, titled Impact of Depression at Work, was conducted by Ipsos Healthcare UK with an educational grant from H. Lundbeck A/S. It was part of a worldwide survey involving 16 countries, including France, Italy, Mexico and Japan. It polled 1,000 Chinese people, both employers and employees, 16 to 64 years old.

"Depression seriously impairs productivity. In fact, more than half of the social and economic burden caused by depression is related to sick leaves and poor efficiency," said Wang Gang, professor of psychiatry and mental health of the Capital Medical University, while releasing the survey results Friday.

Wang is also vice-president of the China Association for Mental Health.

In 2007, a study jointly done by the University of California, Berkeley, and the Shanghai Mental Health Center showed annual economic losses related to depression in China stood at 51.37 billion yuan ($8.35 billion), including 5.62 billion yuan in treatment costs.

In the US, as Wang mentioned, the figure is up to $44 billion a year, most of which is "indirect losses" caused by reduced productivity.

Currently, China has an estimated 90 million people suffering from depression on the mainland, which translates into nearly 7 percent of the population, statistics from the association showed.

Wang pointed to those in sectors like medicine and civil service as being at the greatest risk of developing depression.

Six government officials at the local level reportedly committed suicide in July. Two of them, Zhang Bocheng, a health bureau official in Henan province, and Wang Yunqing, a senior State-owned assets administration official in Hubei province, suffered from severe depression, previous reports said.

Although depression is a leading disability worldwide, the survey found that a majority of the polled Chinese rated depression less disabling than cerebrovascular disease and problems with the heart, blood pressure or circulation.

It also found 40 percent of the respondents recognized trouble concentrating as associated with depression, but less than a quarter recognized the cognitive symptoms of indecisiveness or forgetfulness.

Nearly half said making more mistakes than usual could be a sign, it found.

While asked about countermeasures among employers polled, 55 percent referred to counseling services and 53 percent called for making laws and regulations or at least introducing government policies to better protect employees with depression.

China's Mental Health Law took effect in May 2013, aiming to ensure the rights of psychiatric patients and enhance access into treatment of mental illnesses.

But less than 10 percent of depression sufferers generally turn to doctors for treatment, Wang said.

"Some severe patients might commit suicide without timely intervention," he warned.

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