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Be Well at Work: Helping Employees with Depression


Depression is one of the most comment mental illnesses and has a significant impact on workers and employers. An estimated one in eight working-age adults has depression, yet only about half of adults with depression are diagnosed, and less than half of those diagnosed receive recommended care.(1) In addition to the health impacts of depression on individuals and families, it also takes a significant economic impact. A new study highlights the Tufts Be Well at Work program, that helps employees with depression. Published in Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association, the study presents the results from 15 years of research evaluating the occupational, clinical, and economic impact of Be Well at Work.

Be Well at Work is designed to improve work functioning and to reduce symptoms among employees with depression. It is a short-term, work-focused, telephone-based treatment program and has four integrated components, each addressing a specific barrier to improving work functioning:

  • Private screening for depression – accessible from a computer or mobile device;
  • Work coaching and modification strategies;
  • Work-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy to address thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interfering with working; and
  • Psychoeducation and care coordination to strengthen links to primary care or other healthcare professionals.

Participants receive counseling during eight, 50-minute biweekly telephone sessions over a period of 16 weeks. The counselor and the individual engage in a detailed discussion of the employee’s job demands, job control, stressors, and supports, and they develop a work modification plan. The plan is designed to be self-administered and is aimed at improving functioning through changes in work behavior (such as new time management techniques), work routines (such as collaborating versus staying isolated), or the work environment.

The research included a series of six studies that compared Be Well at Work to usual care. The research found that participants in Be Well at Work experienced consistent and significant improvements in work functioning, work productivity, and depression symptoms. Employees receiving usual care had smaller improvements. The study also found that the program had a positive economic impact for the employer—a result of the low costs and the positive impact on productivity.

While this research focused on phone-based services, the authors note that video-based counseling could also be used, aligning with the greatly expanded use of video-based telehealth services during the COVIC-19 pandemic. Despite some limitations in the research, such as lack of long-term assessment and comparison with other programs, the authors conclude that “Be Well at Work is an effective intervention for improving occupational and clinical functioning” among employees with depression.

Case studies of other workplace depression and mental health initiatives are available from the Center for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. One example is DuPont’s program to promote employee well-being. The program encourages employees to identify the signs of emotional distress in their coworkers and to reach out and connect with them. It also provides education and resources, so they know where to turn when help is needed. 

Another example is Kent State University’s depression initiative, part of its overall commitment  to addressing employee well-being, work-life balance and mental health. The university educated its managers on how to recognize depression and how to support employees affected by it, and then expanded the initiative to all faculty and staff members.

(1) Research on the Tufts Be Well at Work Program for Employees With Depression: 2005–2020
Debra Lerner, M.Sc., Ph.D., David Adler, M.D., Ariella Shayani, M.D., M.P.H., William H. Rogers, Ph.D. Published Online:7 May 2021


DepressionPatients and Families


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