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Work Depression: How it Affects You and What to Do

Depression takes a toll on all who suffer from it, impacting their ability to function normally and fulfill their responsibilities. While depression can create challenges in all areas of a person’s life and how they feel, one aspect that can be particularly difficult to navigate is its impact on their work and job performance.

A study published by the US National Library of Medicine reports that depression costs the United States tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity. Two major contributors affecting job output by depressed employees are absenteeism (missed days from work) and presenteeism (reduced productivity while at work). This means symptoms of depression become so unmanageable for some people that they’re either unable to show up for work at all, or they manage to show up but are unable to perform their responsibilities as effectively as they could if they didn’t have depression.

While work depression is difficult on companies, it’s devastating on the individuals who suffer from it, and they often become too depressed to work. According to the study, compared to their nondepressed coworkers, depressed employees experience more job loss, premature retirement, absences, and on-the-job functional limitations.

This is why it’s so important for people experiencing depression and work difficulties not only to seek help and find tools to help them cope but also to protect themselves against discrimination in the workplace. We at The Phoenix Recovery Center hope this overview of what to do if your depression is affecting your work will help you to take action and improve your situation.

Depressed at Work: Symptoms

When you’re not feeling your best, it’s impossible to perform at your best. Many symptoms of depression can have a negative impact on an employee’s work performance. These symptoms can include irritability; difficulty concentrating; persistent sad, empty and anxious mood; feelings of guilt and helplessness; no interest in activities; decreased energy; weight changes; thoughts of suicide or death; difficulty sleeping or oversleeping; and physical discomfort such as aches and pains, headaches, cramps and digestive problems. These symptoms are often the cause of an employee feeling too depressed to work.

Sometimes people confuse sadness or stress for depression and anxiety, and vice versa. According to Psychology Today, sadness is a normal emotion that is triggered by a disappointing, difficult, hurtful or challenging event. Sadness lessens over time. So does stress. Depression, on the other hand, is a persistent negative emotional state that lasts at least two weeks and is not necessarily triggered by any event.

A Widespread Problem

If you or someone you love suffers from depression at work and have ever thought “working makes me depressed,”  you’re not alone. Dealing with work depression is a huge issue for many people and companies and has been for some time. Around 16 million Americans are affected by major depression disorder (MDD), and according to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 7% of full-time U.S. workers experienced major depression disorder (MDD) in the past year.

With so many people experiencing work depression, you would think that more companies would have worked out a way to help employees who are struggling with their mental health. However, in many instances, companies are not aware which people are struggling or why, and in other instances, they don’t have procedures set in place for how to handle cases where someone’s depression is affecting work. Many instances of work depression are handled by managers within companies on a case-by-case basis, so it’s important that a depressed employee gets involved in advocating for what he or she needs to succeed.

Open Communication

When someone is struggling with anything in life, it can be hard for others to identify their needs — or even that something is going on at all — if they don’t even know there’s a problem. This is why it’s so important for people with work depression to speak up and talk to their employer if their depression or another mental health condition begins affecting their performance in the workplace. This can be a good idea for several reasons.

For one, this lets the employer know the employee cares about his or her job performance and about staying with the company. Additionally, it opens a dialogue where employee and employer can discuss any changes or accommodations they feel could be made to help the employee perform better.

Talking to your employer doesn’t mean you need to share all of the details about what’s going on. It’s a good idea to consult with your company’s HR department to determine how much to share and in what way.

Legal Protection for Employees with Depression

Oftentimes, people may be afraid to speak up about their mental health or depression at work because they’re afraid of repercussions. However, people with depression are protected against both harassment and discrimination at work by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

This doesn’t mean people with depression or another mental health disability have absolute immunity from being fired for job performance reasons. Rather, it means they have workplace privacy rights as well as a right to reasonable accommodation to help them perform and keep their job. When it comes to privacy, for example, your employer cannot share information about your condition with anyone, including your coworkers. A reasonable accommodation, meanwhile, is when a change is made from the way work is normally carried out in order to enable an employee with a disability, including depression, to better perform in his or her role. Figuring out how to work when depressed can be difficult, but it’s possible and worthwhile.

People suffering from work depression sometimes do not take advantage of ADA protections because they don’t always feel the effects of their condition in their life. However, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a condition “does not need to be permanent or severe to be ‘substantially limiting.’ It may qualify by, for example, making activities more difficult, uncomfortable, or time-consuming to perform compared to the way that most people perform them. If your symptoms come and go, what matters is how limiting they would be when the symptoms are present. Mental health conditions like major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) should easily qualify, and many others will qualify as well.”

For more information on protections for people with work depression, refer to the EEOC’s web page about mental health and legal rights.

How to Deal with Depression

While it’s a good idea to take action to protect yourself at work if you feel depressed, it’s crucial that at the same time you seek treatment to improve your mental health and find ways to manage your depression so you can once again feel joy and purpose in your life.

One of the best things you can do to get help is to meet with a licensed medical professional who can confirm your diagnosis and put together a personalized treatment plan. The Phoenix Recovery Center also offers individualized treatment programs to help people suffering from depression and anxiety.

If for any reason you’re not currently able to seek professional help, there are still steps you can take to try to manage your depression at work and in the rest of your life. Here are a few ideas for how to work when depressed:

  • Establish a routine with daily goals. People suffering from depression often lack motivation, time management and direction to get through the day. Following a structured schedule with clearly defined goals, however small, can help keep you from falling into a slump.
  • Take care of your physical health. The health benefits of exercise are many; exercise helps you control your weight, keep your energy levels up, and enjoy temporary mood boosts brought on by endorphins. Watching what you eat will also help you from feeling extra tired or sluggish, and some foods can even support brain health to ease depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • Build a supportive network. Whether at home or at work, surround yourself with friends and family who build you up and encourage you to do and be your best.
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The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT