At a time when the global economy is mired in turbulence, the unemployment line is getting longer and tasks and responsibilities are increasing, everyone can be forgiven if they feel a little blue at work every now and then.

It's normal to occasionally feel down or overwhelmed because of a stressful or upsetting episode at work, but there may be cause for concern if the feelings are prolonged and disruptive.

Typically a taboo and misunderstood subject, depression in the workplace is more common than people may realize, with one in five Canadians suffering from mental illness in their lifetime.

For some, it may be long work days, shift work, frequent business trips, job insecurity or financial stressors that fuel feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness, and other symptoms tied to depression.

There are no firm statistics that reveal the true depth of depression, as experts believe the issue is vastly underreported because of the stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness.

"I think that more people are suffering (from depression) than we may know," Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist with the work stress and health program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), told "The most important thing is not to suffer in silence. It's important to seek help."

Many don't look for help, and there are several common reasons - people may not understand the symptoms, they may be afraid, embarrassed or ashamed and may not want family or co-workers to know, or they may not know who to talk to.

"Stress is something we all go through. It's normal, it's healthy and it helps us to be productive and prepared," Kamkar said. "What's harmful is when it becomes chronic and overwhelming."

According to Health Canada, other common symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure, including hobbies or sexual desire
  • Change in appetite
  • Lack of sleep
  • Decreased energy or fatigue without significant physical exertion
  • Sense of guilt
  • Poor concentration or difficult making decisions
  • Extreme cases may include thoughts of suicide.

People who are seeking help should speak to a doctor, discuss their feelings with family or friends, speak to their employer about the supports available to them, or turn to a self-help group for support, Kamkar said.

By keeping things bottled up, the toll is substantial, both to the person and their workplace, regardless of whether the condition is a result of issues at work, home or a combination of the two.

According to the most recent statistics from Health Canada, about 40 per cent of disability claims and sick leave are primarily due to mental health issues, with depression and anxiety being the most prevalent.

On a grander scale, mental illness costs the economy an estimated $51 billion each year, with a third of that attributed to productivity losses, according to figures provided by CAMH.

The impact hasn't gone unnoticed by corporations.

Lately, there has been a bigger push by companies to develop and implement mental health best practices to help employees to find the help they need - be it talk therapy, medication or something else - and for managers to become better at recognizing the signs, understanding the issues and encouraging employees to seek treatment.

Companies are beginning to make mental illness an open yet private subject by developing programs to help employees connect with things such as community resources, training and return-to-work programs.

The policies are being crafted around research like a recent CAMH study that is shedding light on the possible correlation between treatment for clinical depression and productivity at work.

Led by Dr. Carolyn Dewa, the study found that people who receive treatment for depression while still working are significantly more likely to be highly productive at work than those who do not seek treatment.

Published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, the study examined data from a survey of 3,000 employed and recently employed people in Alberta.

The study confirmed a point that has been established before – people who experienced a depressive episode were less likely to be highly productive – but it revealed data about the impact treatment can have, said Dewa, head of CAMH's centre for research on employment and workplace health.

Study participants who received treatment for a moderate depressive episode were 2.5 times more likely to be highly productive, while those who had a severe episode were seven times more likely to be high-performing at work, Dewa said.

Of those surveyed, about 8.5 per cent, representing 255 workers, said they experienced a depressive episode.

While the study produced some encouraging findings, it also identified some troubling trends, as many of those who responded to the survey said they didn't seek help for their bout of depression.

"The thing that was alarming was the number of people who didn't get treatment," Dewa told

Of those who were diagnosed with a severe episode, 57 per cent didn't receive treatment, compared with 40 per cent of those who experienced a moderate episode, Dewa said.

If anything, the study underlines the importance of prevention and the need for employers to help employees to connect with treatment and support programs, Dewa said.

She's hoping her team's research will lead to better recognition and support in the workplace, result in more people receiving treatment and spur further research to bring an end to the stigma and break down barriers.

Disability leave - and thousands of dollars in costs to an employer - may be avoided if people receive treatment early, Dewa said.

Meanwhile, mental health in the workplace is one of the key discussion topics during Bell Let's Talk Day, a national initiative that is being marked by various events today.

In an event dubbed Employers Connect, leaders from various industries are meeting in three Canadian cities, including Toronto, to discuss mental health in the workplace, best practices and how to provide help to employees.

In Toronto, representatives of Morneau Shepell, a private human resource consulting and outsourcing firm, and Bell Canada are scheduled to speak at an event Wednesday at the Fairmont Royal York, along with Ron Ellis, a retired NHLer who wrote a book about his experience with clinical depression. The event takes place between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

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