Dealing with depression at work

More than 18 million Americans suffer from depression. Don't let it disrupt your life and work; it pays to get help.

Dealing with depression at work

Don't let depression at work derail your life and career.

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 really painful feelings that just 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, as you may be experiencing signs of depression,” says Aimee Barr, a Brooklyn-based psychotherapist.

You'd hardly be alone. According to a Monster's 2020 State of the Candidate 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. In a survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) that asked people which aspects of their job were affected by anxiety and depression, 56% said workplace performance, 51% said their relationship with co-workers and peers, 50% said their quality of work, and 43% said their relationships with superiors.

According to the 2019 study "Strong Minds At Work" conducted by insurance company Unum, mental illness is one of the top causes of worker disability in the U.S., with 62% of missed work days 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 expert-recommended strategies.

Start by talking to a 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. So Dr. Ann Clark, CEO and founder of the San Diego-based Employee Assistance Program (EAP)–provider ACI Specialty Benefits, recommends participating in your company’s EAP, if there is one.

“[EAP] is a confidential, employer-sponsored program to address absolutely any mental health concern including depression, anxiety, stress, emotional wellness, bereavement, grief and loss, substance abuse and addiction, family and relationship issues, and any personal concern,” says Clark. She adds that 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, only 40% of them 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, Clark recommends using a sick day or paid time off without providing a detailed explanation about your reason.

However, “if your depression is starting to interfere with your work and your ability to do your job, I recommend speaking with your boss,” says Barr, noting that your boss has more of an impact on your work responsibilities than HR. (She recommends that you only turn to HR if your conversation with your boss does not yield any results.)

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, Clark says, “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 coping mechanisms

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

In general, Barr recommends doing breathing exercises throughout the day. “We need to regulate our breathing,” says Barr, “especially when things are really intense, it can be hard to problem-solve and think critically.”

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.

Nancy Halpern, an executive at the New York City-based executive coaching firm KNH Associates, emphasizes maintaining healthy habits such as eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and spending time with friends and family. She recommends making plans three to four nights a week 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 work day, but a strong support system—at home and at work—can help you push through the tough times.

Find a more supportive work environment

If your job, co-workers, or boss are contributing to your depression at work, there is no sense in sticking it out. Could you use some help taking the first step but aren't sure how? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Those are two quick and easy ways Monster can help take some of the stress off your shoulders so you can concentrate on your own wellbeing. There are employers out there that pride themselves on fostering a collaborative, supportive workplace where employees can thrive. 

This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal or medical advice. Always seek the professional advice of an attorney and/or qualified health provider regarding any legal or medical questions you may have.