Workplace stress mental health
Big firms are uniting to draw up plans on how to combat depression in the workplace (Reuters)

Some of Europe's biggest firms have come together to try and tackle employee depression as it costs business in the EU tens of billions of euros a year in lost productivity.

Under the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, top executives from business giants such as Barclays and Unilever have formed a Steering Committee to come up with a plan of action to help employees deal with any mental health issues.

One in ten employees take time off work because of depression, with an average of 36 days taken away from the office. Estimates suggest as many as 34.6 million employees in the EU are at risk of depression-related absence - meaning a billion lost days in all.

"The catastrophic impact depression can have on the individual and their family is well acknowledged, but largely unresolved is the impact depression has on work," said Professor Martin Knapp, Professor of Social Policy and Co-Director of LSE Health and Social Care.

"The economic impact is potentially enormous, and this does not take into consideration the reduced productivity of people who keep on working while they are depressed."

Others involved in the project include Royal Mail Group, BT and Deutsche Post DHL. Collectively the firms involved employ 600,000 people.

"Mental health is the dominant workplace health issue of our time. Work can either be beneficial or harmful to mental health and employers can make a major contribution to the wellbeing of society by their actions," said Dr Paul Litchfield, BT Group plc Chief Medical Officer and Target Depression in the Workplace Steering Committee Advisor.

"Combatting depression has been a priority for BT for many years and is an integral part of our Mental Health Framework which has delivered significant business benefits as well as helping very many of our people.

"Through the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, we are looking forward to working with other employers to drive best practice to a higher level and to disseminate it as widely as possible."

A recent survey by mental health charity Mind warned that many UK workers are suffering in silence with stress in the workplace.

Nearly half the 2,000 workers polled in the association's latest survey said employees are expected to cope without mentioning stress at work and that nearly a third felt unable to talk to their line manager if they felt stressed.