How to Cope With Depression at Work

Katie Tyrrell, Author
Updated on October 21, 2021

Depression impacts nearly all aspects of a person’s life; from personal relationships to completing daily tasks. It’s therefore not surprising that it can have a major impact on work performance too.[1] Living with depression and trying to maintain your career can be challenging. However, you can still keep your career on track by identifying the signs of depression and how they impact you at work, and then learning to manage the symptoms with the help of coping strategies.

depressed man working at desk

Signs of Depression

Depression does not necessarily present the same way in different people. Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, (DSM5), the following symptoms may indicate a depressive disorder:[2]

  • Depressed mood nearly every day
  • Low motivation
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide

In the context of work, the signs of depression may be different, and can include a lack of productivity, frequent absences or detachment from co-workers. Depressed individuals are more likely to lose their jobs than those with no depressive symptoms.[3]

Is Your Job the Source of Your Depression?

In some cases, it can be clear that it’s not your job that is the source of the depression; you generally enjoy your work, like your co-workers, and there are other factors that are more likely to be causing your symptoms. In other situations, it can be quite difficult to determine if your work is related to your depressive symptoms. To find out, start by asking yourself whether your work environment is possibly making you feel depressed or whether you feel a lack of fulfillment in your job.

Workplace Environment

A hostile or toxic work environment can naturally cause you to feel hopeless and discouraged. Such a setting can encourage bullying, ostracism, harassment, incivility or rudeness, and offensive speech. And since you spend so many hours of your day at work, it’s natural that those feelings carry over into your day-to-day life, and can possibly affect your mental health.[4]

Lack of Fulfillment

In some cases, you may be in a positive work environment, but your job isn’t fulfilling. This can cause feelings of depression and decreased engagement at work. One study found that finding meaning in your job increases motivation, performance, job satisfaction, and decreases stress and absenteeism.[5]

If your job seems to either be the source of your depression, or is exacerbating it, it may be time to seek a different job, or work with management to provide you with opportunities to engage in more fulfilling work .

Strategies for Managing Depression in the Workplace

For some, changing jobs may be neither possible nor desirable. In addition, the job itself may be unrelated to the root cause of the depression, so finding a new one will not help in those the situations. Therefore, it’s important to find healthy coping strategies.

Be Aware

The first step is to be mindful of how you are feeling. When you see that your emotions are impacting how you function at work, don’t dismiss them. Pay attention to your behavior and the feelings that are triggering them.

Communicate With Your Colleagues

It may feel uncomfortable to broach the topic of depression at work. However, reaching out to your supervisor or co-workers to discuss the issues can help them understand your needs while providing you with relief from having to shoulder the burden alone. Once aware of the situation, your colleagues can offer you support rather than criticism, and perhaps can share strategies for reducing your stress and workload.

Take a Break

Many people choose to accumulate and “save up” their vacation days rather than use them when they are actually needed. It’s worthwhile considering how you can prioritize a healthy work-life balance and take time off to focus on yourself and engage in self-care. Longer breaks may be required if the depressive symptoms are severe.

Seek Help and Support

Seeking professional help to manage depressive symptoms can help in your personal and professional life. A mental health professional can help you work through your emotions, develop strategies to manage depressive symptoms, and possibly try out antidepressant medications.

Talking to family and friends can also provide you with an outlet to talk about your feelings, needs, and frustrations outside of work.

Seek Out a Supportive Workplace Culture

Developing a positive work culture requires the effort of both management and employees. Resources such as counseling services and available human resources personnel to discuss mental health needs can help reduce the isolation often experienced by those with depression and other mental health issues. If your current place of employment does not address the mental health needs of employees, it’s worth having a conversation with your boss to ask what can be done.

Create a Calming Workspace

A workspace with live plants, a comfortable chair, and cheerful décor or pictures can help you feel calmer and more connected while at work. Quality lighting is also important in the workspace to reduce headaches and eye strain.[6]

In Summary

Depression is a common mental health condition, so it’s not surprising that dealing with depression at work is a significant struggle for so many. Whether your job contributes to your depressive symptoms, or is just another area of your life that’s suffering as a result of your depression, taking actions such as those listed above can help you improve your day-to-day functioning and mental wellbeing, both in your personal and professional life.


References

  1. Lerner, D., Adler, D. A., Rogers, W. H., Chang, H., Lapitsky, L., McLaughlin, T., & Reed, J. (2010). Work performance of employees with depression: the impact of work stressors. American journal of health promotion : AJHP24(3), 205–213. https://doi.org/10.4278/ajhp.090313-QUAN-103
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Depressive Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
    https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm04
  3. Whooley, M. A., Kiefe, C. I., Chesney, M. A., Markovitz, J. H., Matthews, K., & Hulley, S. B. (2002). Depressive Symptoms, Unemployment, and Loss of Income. Archives of Internal Medicine, 162(22), 2614. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.162.22.2614
  4. Anjum, A., Ming, X., Siddiqi, A. F., & Rasool, S. F. (2018). An Empirical Study Analyzing Job Productivity in Toxic Workplace Environments. International journal of environmental research and public health15(5), 1035. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15051035
  5. Rosso, B. D., Dekas, K. H., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2011). Corrigendum to “On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review” [Res. Organ. Behav. 30 (2010) 91–127]. Research in Organizational Behavior, 31, 277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.riob.2011.10.001
  6. Summers, J. K., & Vivian, D. N. (2018). Ecotherapy – A Forgotten Ecosystem Service: A Review. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1389. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01389
Katie Tyrrell, Author

Katie is a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC). She has a passion for healing trauma using body-based somatic therapy. Katie believes that healing trauma and restoring physical and emotional health comes from healing the body and nervous system.