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By Kelly Davis, MHA Director of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services 

Depression costs over $51 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity at work in the United States and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the leading cause of disability worldwide.[1][2] Both in a business sense and a human sense, many of our workplaces are failing to promote wellbeing and support people living with depression.

Despite limited supports, people living with depression and other mental health conditions can and do succeed in the workplace. But, as the rates of depression continue to grow, it is clear new approaches are necessary to support and maintain an engaged, healthy workforce.

One way to optimize employee wellbeing and reduce the impact of depression in the workplace is with peer support specialists. Peer support specialists are individuals with lived experience having mental health conditions and/or substance use disorders who receive training to support others, inspire hope, offer tools, and connect people to relevant resources. Peers have been shown to reduce depression, substance misuse, and hospitalization. They also improve social functioning and empower people to take better care of their physical and mental health.[3]

While professionals may feel overwhelmed, isolated, burnt out, or even hopeless, peers offer hope through their own stories and share wellness tools and goal-setting support to help people move toward where they would like to be. Peers reduce some of the barriers and confusing components of connecting to mental health services and offer one-on-one support from someone who has been there.

Employers can incorporate the use of peers as part of their employee assistance programs, as essential service providers through employee health plans, or as important connectors between the workplace and community-based organizations. Peers can support people in the workplace, in the community, or through technology.

With the growing impact of depression at work, it is time for employers to integrate what has been transforming lives in public behavioral health for decades. Peer support specialists are a key component of the present and future of mental health services and supports and will be critical for employers who want to keep and sustain a well workforce.

To learn more about peer support and Mental Health America’s work to expand the peer support workforce, check out the Center for Peer Support.