There’s a major safety and health topic affecting a growing portion of workers that most drillers might find uncomfortable to talk about. Dealing with this issue costs the U.S. economy about $210 billion each year. Yet, most businesses and business owners never discuss it with their employees.
What is this taboo topic? Worker depression. Studies by the company Happify Health show that the number of American employees with symptoms of depression rose more than 18% between 2014 and 2018. That research was prior to 2020 — one of the most difficult years in our collective memories. Whether it was the pandemic, loss of a loved one, loss of revenue, civil unrest, an exhausting election cycle, or even murder hornets, 2020 seemed determined to test our intestinal fortitude and ability to stay happy and healthy.
In fact, a separate study published in August 2020 by the Journal of the American Medical Association finds depression among U.S. workers had further doubled from February 2020 to July 2020. By October, studies showed the number had tripled.
Drillers are a resilient, rough-and-tumble bunch, so I’m sure a number of you are saying to yourselves, “Everyone has times they are not happy. Just suck it up and move on.” But that’s not always possible. For some people, the feeling of unhappiness lingers and creeps into every corner of life. This leads to diminished productivity and possibly domestic or professional issues, further exacerbating the situation. As I write this, the election is underway and is razor close, so people on both sides are anxious. Added to this is the internet and social media, where people do not hesitate to share opinions with strangers. Folks argue and disagree on anything from what gpm a freshly drilled hole is producing (do a pump test and you will know) to the color of the sky. Add to this an uncertain economic climate, and the aforementioned Covid-19 pandemic, and we have a recipe for depression not seen in generations.
Who has the greatest risk for developing depressive symptoms? The JAMA study found “individuals with lower social resources, lower economic resources, and greater exposure to stressors (for example, a job loss) reported a greater burden of depression symptoms.” Typically, this would not include our industry. We are middle class, well educated and have financial resources. But we also have financial burden that most people could not even fathom. The cost of equipment, insurance and licenses is high. Add to this the willingness of our industry to undervalue our services, and the picture becomes clearer. If those hard times come and your company must adjust to meet them, who would be left in the cold?
The Happify Health analysis of half a million people shows a correlation between age and prevalence of depressive symptoms, particularly among employees age 18-24. These younger employees tend to be our entry-level workers, and typically do meet the lower economic resources definition. In contrast, older employees age 55-64 showed improvements in their mental health.
According to their study, depression among female workers increased significantly, with the prevalence of symptoms up 44% from 2014 to 2018 — a bigger increase than any age or gender group. In fact, the rate of increase among millennial women reached twice that of millennial men.
Further, a study released in August by the Mental Health Index had some startling findings about 2020. It found the risk for depression among U.S. workers doubled from February to July. Millennials were particularly at risk. It found workers age 20-39 have a 101% higher risk of depression and a 132% greater risk of general anxiety disorder than their middle-aged counterparts (ages 40-59). The millennial age group also has a 305% higher risk of depression than their baby boomer colleagues (ages 60+).
What do we do if we think that an employee may suffer from depressive symptoms, or if we feel ourselves or our loved ones suffer from depressive symptoms?
The first thing is have a series of conversations. Ask them how they’re doing, how they’re feeling. Don’t expect them to say, “Man, I’m feeling depressed.” Often, even healthy people hesitate to share their feelings.
On a recent Brock and Dave’s Drillercast episode, I relate a story of when I worked for man who saw the productivity of one of his longtime employees drop significantly. It turned out that this worker had a drinking problem. Instead of threatening to let this driller go, he offered him help. “I will pay for you to get help and even go to counseling with you if that is what is needed,” he told the employee. I bring this up because it is the same thing with depression: You can only help someone once they admit the issue and disclose the need. This requires frequent, understanding conversation.
Employees have to be willing to disclose their need for help. Individuals may hesitate to disclose a possible condition. That’s fine. Medical privacy laws protect workers. They don’t have to provide extensive details to their employer other than how they are feeling. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers mental health, too. This means employers must make reasonable accommodations for workers with such disorders. Your insurance provider can provide details about coverage and other supports they may provide. Remember, as employers we’re responsible for knowing our roles when it comes to federal, state and other applicable laws when it comes to employee health.
Whether you mix mud as a helper or sign the paychecks, a wellness checkup can help you know whether symptoms point to depression or another health condition. Mental Health America provides free screening tests on their website at https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools.
Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are real, common and treatable. But recovery is possible. We all have the right to a healthy and safe work environment, and part of that is coworkers with good attitudes. After all, aren’t we all more productive drilling in the sunshine rather than the rain? Until next time, stay happy, stay healthy and keep turning to the right.