Coping with Depression at Work

Katie Tyrrell, Author
November 4, 2020

Depression impacts nearly all aspects of a person’s life – from personal relationships to completing daily tasks. It is no surprise, therefore, that it can impact work performance too. Living with depression and trying to maintain your career can be challenging. You can keep your career goals on track, though, by identifying the signs of depression and its impact on your performance, learning to manage the symptoms, and developing coping strategies at work.

work at desk

Signs of Depression

Depression affects people in many ways. Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, (DSM5), the following symptoms may indicate a depressive disorder:

  • 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 job than non-depressed individuals. 

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 depression. In other situations, however, it can be difficult to determine. Ask 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.

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, lack of fulfillment, and decreased engagement. One study found that finding meaning in your job increases motivation, performance, job satisfaction, and decreases stress and absenteeism.

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 develop a healthier work environment.

Strategies to Manage Depression in the Workplace

For some, changing jobs may be neither possible nor desirable. 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. It may be time to reach out for help.

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. It is a good idea, however, to 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 therapist can help you develop strategies to manage depressive symptoms while advancing in your career. Talking to family and friends may also provide you with an outlet to talk about your feelings, needs, and frustrations outside of work.

Develop a Positive 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. 

Create a Calming and Supportive 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.

You Are Not Alone

Depression is the most common mental health diagnosis, so it is not surprising that dealing with depression at work is a significant struggle for many. Whether your job contributes to your depressive symptoms, or your depressive symptoms are present while at work, adopting depression management strategies and a positive work culture can help mitigate the symptoms. It is crucial to seek help so you can function both personally and professionally.

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.