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With depression reported as a leading cause of lost productivity in the United States, a new initiative encourages companies to invest in their workforce to gain healthier, more productive employees, as well as achieve decreased disability costs, less turnover and better retention of valued employees, according to the national coalition Employers Health.

A Harvard University Medical School study suggested that untreated mental illness cost U.S. businesses $105 billion in lost productivity alone. A 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 45.6 million adults (18+) suffer from a form of mental illness, or 19.6% of all Americans. Of the 45.6 million, the DHS study estimated that 38.2 million received some treatment during the previous 12 months.

The Ohio-based Employers Health has teamed with the American Psychiatric Foundation's Partnership for Workplace Mental Health to create the program Right Direction to raise awareness about depression in the workplace and its effect on productivity, promote early recognition of symptoms, and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

An official with the Springdale-based Ozark Guidance endorsed the initiative. David Duerr, a credentialed human resources professional and the community mental health center's director of business services, applauded the program and called it part of a growing movement.

Ozark Guidance is "taking the lead of taking 'mental health first aid' into Arkansas," he said, explaining the term is comparable to CPR training. "This is the aid we render to somebody" until professionals can take over.

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