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How to handle work when you're depressed

Jan 5, 2018 Eric Titner

How to handle work when you're depressed

Work can be challenging in even the best of circumstances—but when you’re depressed and not feeling your absolute best, getting through each workday can be a real struggle. Many folks grapple with depression in both their personal and professional lives, and it can make getting through each day and handling daily responsibilities difficult. According to a recent study by The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 6.7% of all U.S. adults.” The NIMH defines a major depressive episode as “a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.” Depression in the workplace is a significant issue—both for employees and employers. Mental Health America recently reported that “Clinical depression has become one of America's most costly illnesses. Left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the U.S. economy, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs. Depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if untreated.” Furthermore, a significantly higher percentage of adults suffer from minor or moderate depressive episodes. Although they typically include less pervasive symptoms, it can nonetheless make it hard to handle work and a spiraling effect can result—you feel depressed, which effects your ability to work, which makes you more depressed, and so on. Are you among the millions of Americans who suffer from depression? If so, then you’re not alone and there is a way forward—use the following strategies to help you learn to handle work when you’re depressed.

Don’t ignore the signs.

If you’re struggling at work, try your best to recognize the signs that it might be due to depression.
  • Are you feeling tired and lethargic throughout the day for no reason?
  • Are everyday tasks—things that you used to do before with ease—becoming increasingly more difficult for you to handle and complete, or have become completely overwhelming for you?
  • Is interacting with others at your workplace, or working collaboratively on team-based projects, becoming so uncomfortable or unappealing to you that you avoid contact or social interactions with colleagues at all costs?
  • Do you find that your self-care routine is falling by the wayside?
  • Are you noticing negative changes in your overall mood and attitude throughout the day?
  • Has your productivity at work dipped?
  • Do you find yourself missing work, coming in late, or leaving early more often?
The truth is, any one or combination of these signs could be an indication that you’re suffering from depression. If you answered yes to any of these questions, the first step is to acknowledge that depression might currently be an issue for you.

Assess your needs.

As previously mentioned, there are varying degrees of depression that an individual can experience, and every person has their own unique symptoms, coping mechanisms, and needs. If you’ve made the determination that you’re suffering from depression—whether its mild or more profound—a good idea is to try and take an honest self-assessment and mental inventory regarding how it’s affecting your life. The last thing you want to have happen is to have your depression take complete control of your life and adversely affect your job situation—which can make your condition worse. Once you’ve determined how your depression is affecting you at work, try to assess your needs. Do you need to simply recalibrate, get organized, and wrap your head around your work responsibilities in a new and fresh way? Do you need to make some behavioral and lifestyle changes in an effort to enact positive change? Or do you need additional outside help? Once you’re able to make a determination about what you need in order to effect change in your life and make the struggle a bit easier, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right steps for you.

Seek help if needed.

Do you think that you may need some guidance from others—perhaps friends or family, trusted colleagues, or professional help? The first thing to realize is that this isn’t a personal failure on your part. Many competent and functional adults suffer from depression, and there’s no shame or stigma in reaching out for help. Depression is a heavy weight to carry around on your own—seeking help from others can help ease the burden and allow you to focus on working towards an effective life solution.

Explore workplace options.

Many progressive workplaces offer benefits packages that include mental health services—from finding the right professional help to meet your needs to financial coverage for associated costs. You may also be eligible to take paid time off from work to focus on getting help and getting better. Contact your HR representative to learn all of your options, which will help you formulate the best strategy for dealing with your depression. You are under no obligation to disclose a private health concern like depression to your colleagues and coworkers. That said, many people chose to be honest and up front about their depression and are met with sensitivity, guidance, and understanding, which can be an incredibly supportive and encouraging thing to have at a time when you need it most. The choice on how to handle disclosure is completely yours.

Don’t just ignore your depression.

How many problems in your life get better by simply ignoring them? If you feel that you’re experiencing depression at work and it’s affecting your ability to do your job, your best bet is to not ignore it and to use the steps outlined above to try and make some positive changes. Don’t forget—you’re not alone and your situation is not insurmountable. With a little proactive effort and the courage to effect positive changes in your life, you can go beyond learning how to handle depression at work. Instead, you can truly thrive.

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