Mood disorder cuts work performance

Lost workdays occur especially frequently among people with bipolar disorder, even more so than among workers with major depression, a national survey finds.

Major depression consists of recurrent bouts of helplessness, hopelessness, and depressed mood. In contrast, swings between periods of severe depression and of euphoria characterize bipolar disorder.

Researchers led by sociologist Ronald C. Kessler of Harvard Medical School in Boston interviewed a nationally representative sample of 3,378 workers. The interviews revealed that in the previous year, 1 percent had suffered from bipolar disorder and 6 percent had experienced major depression.

The team counted as lost work time both absences and lowered job performance. Each worker with bipolar disorder lost the equivalent of almost 66 workdays yearly, compared with 27 lost workdays for each person with major depression, the researchers report in the September American Journal of Psychiatry. This difference reflected more-severe and longer bouts of depression in people with bipolar disorder, Kessler and his co-investigators conclude.

They advocate studies to determine whether workplace screening and treatment for both mood disorders might reduce lost work time.

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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