By SCHATZIE BRUNNER

Depression is something that many are hesitant to discuss – out of fear, out of misunderstanding, out of shame, and out of guilt – but it is a vital health issue about which we are long overdue to start a conversation.

This disease significantly impacts the lives of millions and has consequences in our communities and area businesses that few realize. It can disrupt personal and professional relationships, create physical fatigue and exhaustion, and jeopardize a person’s ability to do his or her job.

The statistics around depression are startling. More than 16 million American adults experience major depressive disorder in their lifetimes – nearly 7 percent of the U.S. population. More than 10 million experience an episode of depression that results in severe impairment each year.

A study published in Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed that the economic burden of major depressive disorder is $210.5 billion per year. Employers bear about half of these costs in absenteeism and presenteeism. Presenteeism defines a lack of engagement or focus, as employees are physically present, but may find it difficult to keep concentration and muster enthusiasm around their work. Unlike presenteeism, absenteeism is noticeable — as it represents when people are missing days of work.

Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, falling just below family crisis and stress. It is estimated that presenteeism is responsible for nearly 40 percent of the overall $210.5 billion, and these costs are on the rise, having increased from $64.7 billion in 2005 to $78.7 billion in 2010 – the equivalent of 32 incremental workdays lost. Absenteeism costs are estimated at $23.3 billion.

Outside of the workplace, depression is a cause of family strife, strained relationships, chronic pain, and suicide. Contrary to what most people may think, depression affects more than just the individual with depression. Family members, friends and peers can all experience the ripple effect of depression. Communication can become problematic, leaving loved ones unaware or unsure of how to approach the individual who is suffering.

Yet, depression is not often talked about. Those struggling keep their feelings within for fear they might not be accepted by a society conditioned to encourage and celebrate happiness. And this fear means that many whose depression could be managed never get the treatment or support they need.

I know this struggle because I lived it for more than four decades. This is why I worked with medical professionals to create New Way Now. When you log on to our website, you are directed to a simple questionnaire that helps to gauge the level of depression you may be experiencing. Then, it connects you with providers in your area who are available to see you and help evaluate your options.

Given that 20% of Tennessee adults were diagnosed with mental illness in 2017, it’s a pressing issue for the state.

Our communities, our local families and our local businesses can all be strengthened by a more robust conversation about depression. If we talk about it, we bring those struggling in secret into the light, dispelling myths, encouraging treatment and saving lives.

Schatzie Brunner is a celebrated author, former CNN anchor and mental health advocate. She founded New Way Now to offer educational resources and a community space for those struggling with depression in Tennessee and Kentucky.