Depression Is No Laughing Matter despite SNL Jokes

Andy Winnegar, November 9, 2017

Saturday Night Live’s cast member Pete Davidson 23 revealed recently on the show’s “Weekend Update” segment that he was returning to work after being diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder and depression. He joked that if he were given more airtime on the comedy show it would make him feel better. He continued by reading a note from his doctor supporting keeping the comedian in the spotlight.

Davidson was being funny about his disability and job accommodations, yet he was also offering some sound advice.

“ First of all, if you think you’re depressed, see a doctor and talk to them about medication, be healthy: eating right and exercise can make a huge difference. ” said Davison.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five people will experience a psychiatric disability in their lifetime, and it is likely that most employers have at least one employee with a psychiatric disability.

Doctors and health care provides have a major role in helping their patients minimize life disruptions and remain productive after injury or diagnosis of disability according to a June 6, 2017 position paper by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The paper stressed the importance of work and health referencing a 1966 thirty year study of 20 year old men that found that 3 weeks of bed rest had a more profound negative impact on their physical work capacity than 3 decades of aging. In another study referenced in the paper researchers found that up to 80% of days off work after illness or injury was not due to the medical condition itself.

According to the ACOEM recommendations medical providers should be aware that the likelihood of job loss rapidly increases due to time away from work and by encouraging patients to keep as closely as possible to their usual daily routine will have positive health benefits.

Ideas presented in the paper for minimizing work loss was reducing unnecessary delays in treatment, helping patients with employer and insurer communication, and providing guidance to employers and vocational rehabilitation professionals on appropriate job accommodations. For the employed patient, this includes helping them to find a way to stay at work, unless there is a safety or health concern or risks to others. If a patient cannot safely perform his or her usual job, they should still be encouraged to continue some type of productive work, best handled in their current workplace, with accommodations or temporary restrictions on activities or functions. If work must be interrupted by medical treatment then the time away from employment should be minimized, as skills and productivity may be lost.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, most employers must provide "reasonable accommodations " to qualified employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments to a work setting that make it possible for qualified employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Not all employees with psychiatric or physical disabilities need accommodations to perform their jobs, but for those who do, it is important that the process of developing and implementing accommodations is individualized with input from the employee.

“Unnecessary work disability is caused by a wide variety of nonmedical factors. Some work disability is iatrogenic, meaning it is inadvertently caused by physicians,” according to the research presented by the ACOEM.

Medical training may not prepare physicians or other health care providers on the medical aspects of a patient’s work demands or how work-related stress and pressures may challenge their patients’ ability to cope in various work environments.Yet according to the research, continued participation in work, adds meaning and purpose to life, decreases health problems and has a positive effect on their mental, family, social and economic well-being.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com. An edited version of this story was published on Monday November 6, 2017 in the Santa Fe New Mexican.