The Future Workforce

The prevalence of mental disorders is expected to increase ↑

Baby Boomers

Aging Baby Boomers will face increasing emotional stress and financial pressure due to longer life spans, physical challenges, the natural aging process, and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Those who had become part of the “Sandwich Generation,” are likely to evolve into “Over-Stuffed Sandwiches,  as modern medicine extends the lives of their parents; and their children seek support raising their own children (i.e. the Baby Boomers’ grandkids), while they all struggle with the economic realities of a growing middle class, inability to save for retirement, and the challenges of a dual income society.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

The “diagnosis of” ASD continues to increase. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in May 2013 an estimate of 1 in 68 children in the United States identified as having ASD; roughly 30 percent higher than the 2012 report of 1 in 88. In New Jersey, 1 in 45 children were diagnosed. Almost half of children identified with ASD have average or above average intellectual ability (an IQ of 85 and above) compared to a third of children a decade ago. With the appropriate accommodations and career counseling they can be productive members of the workforce. 

Autism rates are up, but is it really on the rise?  While it is not clear what percentage of the increase is due to increased awareness, changes in the diagnostic criteria, or the fact that there may be a shift in diagnoses for many children previously labeled with “intellectual disabilities” (that number has fallen as the diagnosis of ASD his soared); more and more are beginning to question whether the “actual” increase in Autism over the years is anywhere near the degree to which it has been publicized.  Recent research suggests that 60% of the increase can be attributed to the alternate factors mentioned above.

However, what is clear is that many children are being identified at an earlier age, and that a greater number of individuals, who have benefited from early intervention and educational accommodations (since the addition of the ADAAA in 2008), will enter the workforce with a diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” and the understanding that they require accommodations for maximum productivity…even if they are gifted.  This is likely to be the case for individuals with a variety of mental illnesses, including ADHD, Bipolar Disorder. and Dyslexia, etc.  Students who would not have been likely to complete their education in previous decades, are graduating at increasing rate…some with advanced degrees, and “expect” careers, rather than simply hoping for meager minimum wage jobs.

Dr. Peter Gerhardt is a nationally known expert on the needs of adults with Autism, who considers the disability education law a civil rights issue for children, but not yet for adults.  “This is a very complex group of individuals that the system is in no way prepared to handle…and it is not like we cannot see it coming.”  When individuals enter the adult world; there are no longer well qualified professionals to work with them, there is no guarantee of services, and funding gets cut dramatically.  “It is like falling off the cliff.”  NEED TO KNOW | Losing the safety net: Adults with autism | PBS


The rate of depression is increasing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that antidepressant use in the United States had increased nearly 400 percent in the last two decades, making antidepressants the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18 to 44. Among those 12 years and older, 11 percent were taking antidepressants during the period from 2005 to 2008. And, 23% of women between the ages of 40 and 49 were taking medication for depression; more than in any other age or sex group. Most importantly, antidepressant use did not vary by income status, indicating depression is prevalent within all levels of the workforce.

Mental Disorders in Children

Mental disorders in children are associated with an increased risk in adulthood; resulting in decreased productivity, increased substance use and injury, and substantial costs to the individual and society. According to the CDC, “A total of 13 to 20 percent of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance from 1994 to 2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.” Mental disorders among children are an important public health issue because of their prevalence, early onset, and impact on the child, family, and community.

The Modernization of Society

Clinicians have begun to attribute the increase in mental disorders to our failure to fully adapt to our modern world. According to Stephen Ilardi, PhD, author of The Depression Cure,

“The rate of depression in industrialized societies has been on the rise for decades — it’s roughly 10 times higher today than it was just two generations ago. For most of human history, everyone benefited from the antidepressant effect of these ancient lifestyle elements. But over the past few hundred years, technological evolution has proceeded at a relentless pace. And as many protective features of that way of life have gradually disappeared, the rate of depression has begun to spiral out of control. Our Stone Age brains just weren’t designed to handle the sedentary, isolated, indoor, sleep-deprived, fast-food laden, stressed-out pace of 21st-century life. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was profoundly antidepressant.”

Ilardi also addresses the global epidemic and the fact that it is occurring at earlier ages (with each succeeding generation) in Depression is a disease of civilization.  A primary trigger of depression is “the fight or flight response,” which was designed to aid our ancestors, who were hunter-gatherers, when they faced their predators, and required intense physical activity…the problem is that the stress response in our lives is ongoing and damages the circuits of the brain, which can lead to depression, and can damage the brain over time.  It also triggers an inflammatory response within the brain.  Like other inflammatory diseases, depression is prevalent within highly industrialized world.  It is a disease of lifestyle.  However, he suggests the good news is that “it can be defeated.”

Depression as a disease of modernity: explanations for increasing prevalence (Journal of Affective Disorders) explores questions as to whether depression rates have increased, and reviews evidence for possible explanations; including as suggested in the chart below, the increase in income inequality, as well as an increase in gross domestic product.  The article concludes that future research and policy interventions are needed to address this public health crisis.

income versus depression chart

Researchers have discovered individuals with ADHD demonstrate traits which were better suited to nomadic hunter-gatherers, than to settlers who lived in isolated villages. For hunter-gatherers, there was always something new to see and explore. In evolutionary terms, hunter-gatherers were generalists, in that they needed to know how to do a little bit of everything to survive.  See ADHD and Evolution.

The Future is NOW

According to experts, a shortage of workers is expected in 2018. While Baby Boomers are expected to work much longer before retirement; there is reason to believe they will seek flexible schedules, additional training, and more balanced lives. However, an individual’s memory declines with age, as well as the ability to block out background noise; challenges similar to those experienced by individual’s struggling with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Whether employers choose to employ seasoned seniors or educated individuals with mental disabilities; accommodations will be necessary if they are to remain fully staffed, and fully productive.

Be Counted!  Illuminate Mental Diversity at Work.
There is safety (AND strength) in numbers. “All for one, and one for all.”

Suggestions, feedback, comments, and questions welcomed at

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© October 2015


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