Work Productivity and Lifestyle Changes May Be Good Marker of Depression Symptom Improvements

Work-Family Lifestyle Balance

A recently published study has offered the novel suggestion that monitoring a depressed person’s work productivity can give an improved window into the progress of their depression symptoms and how treatment may be working to improve their lifestyle.

One of the difficulties in developing clinical models for treating depression and conditions like the depressive side of bipolar disorder, is that there can be a great deal of variation between patients. This variation exists both in terms of the type and severity of symptoms and in how well they respond to treatments such as medication, cognitive therapy, lifestyle methods like physical exercise, and so on.

Finding more ways to track a patient’s progress beyond symptom monitoring can help provide more robust care and better identify patients that might be in need of more help.

The study tracked depression symptoms and work productivity in 331 patients identified as having major depression. The participants were tracked in intervals of six weeks, three months, and seven months after they began taking antidepressants. At the six week mark, the patients were divided into three groups: those who showed “robust” early work improvements (24%), those with minimal change (49%), and those who continued to show high impairment or only slight improvement (27%).

The three groups were then evaluated at each interval for improvements in their symptoms. At the end of the study, it was found that those in the robust work improvement category were three to five times more likely than the other two groups to achieve full remission of their depression symptoms.

The idea of using work productivity being impacted by the symptoms of depression is not new, since changes in work habits or absences are one of the lifestyle factors that the condition can impact. What this study brings to the table is the idea that improvements in work productivity can be an indicator of how well a patient is responding to antidepressants.

Since the group with robust, early improvement in work habits was more likely to see a full remission without additional interventions, the finding suggests that the patients with more limited improvements might be good candidates for follow-up or additional treatment. It’s a promising line of inquiry that will hopefully be given more ongoing investigation.


“Work productivity is key factor in assessing recovery of depressed patients,” UT Southwestern web site, August 15, 2016;, last accessed August 16, 2016.

Jha, M., et al., “Early Improvement in Work Productivity Predicts Future Clinical Course in Depressed Outpatients: Findings from the CO-MED Trial,” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 2016;