The younger the worker, the greater the depression

Study finds young Canadian workers are suffering from more depression and anxiety than older workers

Young Canadian workers are more depressed than their older colleagues, a trend that will force employers to rethink approaches to employee mental health, according to a new study.

“Our statistics show us younger employees — the Generation Xers and the Millennials — are the ones reporting the highest rates of depression and anxiety symptoms, and it looks like it is going from bad to worse,” said Rod Phillips, president and CEO, employee assistance provider WarrenShepell, the company that produced the report Workplace Mental Health Indicators: An EAP's Perspective. More than 10 per cent of workers under 20 reported some symptoms of depression in the last three years, compared to slightly more than five per cent of workers between 30 and 49 years old.

“Over the last three years we’ve seen a tremendous jump in anxiety rates among 20- to 29-year-old employees, and depression rates among employees under 20 years old are higher than in any other age group,” he said.

This group represents about one-third of the labour pool and will play an increasingly important role in the years ahead as older workers retire. Employers need to understand why these younger workers are having so many emotional problems and take steps to help them, he said.

“Organizations that understand what makes these newer generations ‘tick,’ will emerge as winners in the battle to recruit and retain these new talents."

Based on three years of data on utilization patterns from more than 123,000 employees at more than 2,300 organizations, WarrenShepell found:

•Employees under 20 presented the highest rates of depression, with 10.6 reporting some depression; employees 20- to 29-years old had the next highest rate at 7.85 per cent. Just 5.58 per cent of workers 30- to 49-years-old reported symptoms of depression, however the rate goes up again for employees over 50, with 6.91 per cent reporting symptoms of depression.

•Anxiety symptoms for employees aged 20 to 29 years rose over the three-year period of the study from 3.43 per cent in 2001 to 4.58 per cent in 2003.

•Anger symptoms were more common among younger employee groups (three-year average of 3.04 per cent for employees under 20 years old) and went down with age (1.55 per cent for employees over 50 years old).

“Employers have good reason to actively work toward the prevention of these disorders within their working population,” said Gerry Smith, vice-president of Organizational Health, WarrenShepell. “(I)f these trends in anxiety and depression continue, employers will quickly witness the effects of these issues, which can include lower performance scores in problem solving, decision-making, team effectiveness, and building and maintaining relationships.”

Employers can assist by: providing employees with autonomy and clear feedback; encouraging employee input into decision-making; and offering adequate training so that managers can recognize the symptoms of emotional problems and address them in an appropriate manner, he said.

Latest stories