Stress, mental illness are leading causes of lost days at work

Heavy lifting, slippery floors and chronic pain no longer dominate the causes of lost days in the workplace.

Behavioral health problems do.

With that in mind, the Colorado Culture of Health Conference focused its wellness sessions on mental health this year.

About 550 people — business owners, public health officials, community leaders — came to the Colorado Convention Center on Wednesday to hear jarring statistics and reassuring suggestions about helping employees with treatable mental illnesses.

One in every four people struggle with mental health challenges each year, they were told. Antidepressants are now the third most prescribed drugs in the country. An estimated $44 billion is lost nationwide each year from reduced productivity related to depression alone.

Mary McClatchey, a consultant and former administrative law judge, told conferees that early detection and treatment can result in minimal costs and few lost days in comparison with treating a more advanced illness.

“Stigma,” she said, “is the biggest barrier to care.”

She likened current attitudes toward mental illness to the 1980s attitude toward AIDS, even though diseases of the brain are generally as treatable today as diseases elsewhere in the body.

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