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Barrier to Success

Fear of Stigma, Lack of Support Keep Women From Seeking Help

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (November 11, 2003) — A survey just released by the National Mental Health Association and the American Medical Women's Association found that 83 percent of working women with depression found it to be the number one barrier to success in the workplace. Depression affects about five million employed American women each year, and the women surveyed identified behaviors such as leaving work early or not returning from lunch, avoiding contact with coworkers and being unable to face work as common problems associated with their illness.

“In this day and age – with all we know about depression and its treatments – it's alarming that so many women don't get the treatment they need,” said Lea Ann Browning McNee, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Community Development at NMHA. “Depression is a very common illness with very successful treatments. There's no reason it should stand in the way of a woman's success in the workplace”

Untreated depression significantly impacts working women with depression. In fact, the women surveyed found depression to be a greater obstacle to professional success than other barriers such as 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. And, nearly one-third of respondents said their depression “completely interferes” with their ability to do their job.

The survey demonstrates the real benefits of treatment for depression. For example:

  • 94 percent of women surveyed noticed improvements at work after seeking help for depression.
  • 68 percent of survey respondents reported reestablishing relationships with coworkers after treatment.
  • Surveyed women who experienced a virtual elimination of depressive symptoms after treatment described themselves as “highly self-confident” and “interested in their growth again.”

Although an array of successful treatments exists for depression, less than half of working women with depression who received treatment sought it immediately. These women stated that they did not know where to go for help, felt pressure from work-related time constraints, feared their insurance would not cover the costs and worried that they could lose their jobs. Others attributed their delay in seeking treatment to the stigma associated with 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 Browning-McNee. “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.”

About Depression

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. More than 80 percent of people with depression can be treated successfully with psychotherapy, medications or a combination of both. However, untreated depression continues to costs our economy more than $44 billion annually, mostly due to lost productivity.

Survey Methodology

Russell Research conducted the “Depression Among Women in the Workplace” survey on behalf of NMHA through an unrestricted educational grant from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Russell conducted interviews with 751 employed women from April 21 to May 19, 2003. Among the women surveyed, 250 had significant symptoms of depression, but were undiagnosed at the time of the survey, and the remaining 501 self-reported a previous diagnosis of depression.

Findings for the total sample and any combined samples were projectable to the universe of working women living with depression in the United States. At a 95 percent confidence level, a margin of sample error of ±3.9 percent applies to the total sample and ±6.2 percent applies to subgroups of those diagnosed with minimal to no symptoms, those diagnosed with mild to major symptoms and those who are undiagnosed. For other subgroups, the error rate increased as the base size decreased.


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