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Depression at Work: How to Cope
10 May 2021

Don’t let depression disrupt your life and work. Take these steps to get help.

Depression at work can manifest itself in many ways. Maybe you have difficulty concentrating on the tasks at hand, are exhausted because you can’t sleep, feel on the verge of tears all the time, are nervous and overwhelmed, or some combination of the above.

But experiencing depression at work isn’t exactly remarkable, right? Better learn to suck it up and deal, right? Not exactly. There’s a definite difference between regular ol’ workplace stress—a big presentation, a client’s disapproval, a heavy workload—and actual depression.

When you experience persistent, troubling feelings that won’t go away no matter what you do, and those feelings interfere with all areas of your life, it’s important to get support. You’d hardly be alone. According to a Monster survey of 1,000 full-time and part-time employees in the United States, many employees have experienced depression (24%) and physical illness (12%) as a result of their job; 34% said their job negatively affects their mental health.

Depression can be debilitating, so it’s not surprising that it can impact your experiences at work. A survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) asked people which aspects of their job were affected by anxiety and depression. The results:

  • workplace performance (56%)
  • relationship with co-workers and peers (51%)
  • quality of work (50%)
  • relationships with superiors (43%)

Mental illness is one of the top causes of worker disability in the U.S., with 62% of missed workdays attributed to mental health conditions. Of people working with mental illness, 66% have been diagnosed with depression.

The last thing you need is for your job stability or your boss’s perception of you to suffer when you are suffering. So if you’re feeling like depression is affecting your work and hindering your relationships with co-workers, try these coping strategies.


Start by Talking to a Mental Health Professional

A therapist can help you develop a treatment plan, such as weekly talk therapy or medicine. But even looking for someone to see can be a tough first step when depression at work already has you in its grips. In that instance, participating in your company’s EAP, if there is one, can help.

An EAP is a confidential, employer-sponsored program to address mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, stress, emotional wellness, bereavement, grief and loss, substance abuse and addiction, family and relationship issues, and other personal concerns. Employees typically have access to three to six free sessions—where the clinician offers assessment, short-term problem resolution, and referrals to additional resources.

If your company doesn’t have an EAP, you can find lots of resources online. For example, the ADAA has a ”find help” section of their site, and the National Institute of Mental Health is another great source of information on workplace depression.


Talk to Your Boss or HR

Even though so many people say depression interferes with work performance, few disclose it to their employer. It’s likely that people don’t speak up and ask for help because there is still a stigma around it. Mental health discrimination at work unfortunately discourages open dialogue. People may be worried that they will be viewed as incapable of doing their job and could be let go as a result of asking for help. But depending upon the severity of your symptoms, you may want to make certain people at work aware of your situation.

If you need to take a mental health day here or there, you can use a sick day or paid time off without providing a detailed explanation about your reason.

However, if your condition is starting to interfere with your ability to do your job, consider speaking with your boss (who has more of an impact on your work responsibilities than HR. If your conversation with your boss does not yield any results, you can then turn to HR.

For example, if you’re working on a particularly difficult project that is causing you to feel anxious or depressed, you might want to let your manager know you need help so that he/she can delegate some of the responsibilities to your co-workers.

You might say, “I want to deliver excellent results, but I’m feeling overwhelmed. It would be very helpful if I could work on this project with a few more people. Who on our team do you think could be a good fit?”

If you need to take a leave of absence or accommodations to your workspace, a simple statement like, “I have a medical condition that requires an extended leave,” or, “I have a medical condition that requires I work in an area with natural sunlight,” should suffice for HR or management. Note that you may need to provide additional documentation from a doctor or clinician.


Create Mechanisms for Coping with Depression at Work

Taking care of yourself and developing coping mechanisms can help you throughout the workday. A professional can help you develop specific strategies for your symptoms.

Take short breaks during the workday—go for a walk and cry if you feel the need, call a friend or family member, or simply take some time to yourself. It’s also important not to isolate yourself, which is something depression can compel you to do. Reach out to co-workers and make a concerted effort to be engaged, rather than closing yourself off.

Maintaining healthy habits such as eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and spending time with friends and family. Try to make plans three to four nights a week—even if it’s something as simple as a quick phone call—so that you always have someone to talk to after a draining day.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can make it especially challenging to get through even the normal routines of a workday, but a strong support system—at home and at work—can help you push through the tough times.