Dealing With Depression in the Workplace
Author: Mike Scaletti
2020 was a tough year. In 2019 my partner and I moved across the country, leaving our families, friends, and support networks behind and settling in to a brand new city. When the pandemic hit it derailed our attempts to create a new friend group and left me feeling isolated and down. For the first time in my life I began dealing with depression, to the point that a lot of days I struggled to get out of bed.
Even while struggling through, I still had to work and stay on top of my responsibilities, and that wasn't easy. Given how many people in my own life I know deal with depression and anxiety, I thought I would share what I found worked for me.
Once you've realized you're depressed, make sure that you're getting treatment. Early in the pandemic I saw the spiral I was dealing with and recognized the symptoms from having seen people I love deal with depression in the past. I sought out a therapist, and though due to the pandemic I wasn't able to see them in person, it helped me address and deal with the symptoms.
That really is the key. Depression comes with numerous symptoms, which can vary from person to person, from lack of motivation and desire to difficulty focusing and memory issues. The goal of therapy is to identify and then address the underlying causes of your mental health issues, but one of the main benefits, especially for your career, is developing healthy coping mechanisms. Learning to cope with the symptoms will allow you to better manage your professional life.
If you have insurance, talk to your HR manager about mental health coverage on it if it is employer provided, or visit your insurance provider's website and see what options are covered. If you don't have insurance there are several options. Many therapists offer means based sliding scale prices, and there are numerous free support groups that can help. Here's a good collection of resources for the SF Bay Area, but a quick google search will identify options for wherever you are.
Lean on Your Support Network
There is a reason that my feelings of isolation led to my depression. Humans are social creatures and we need strong support groups to function well. One of the silver linings of 2020 was the explosion of video chat platforms. It allowed me to stay in closer touch with my friends who were far away than I did before the Pandemic, eventually setting up regular zoom meetings with several of my friend groups.
If you have a support network closer to you even better. Either way, identify a trusted friend, or several, that you can open up to and talk to about what you're going through. Given that about 7% of adult Americans deal with major depression in one form or another, you may find that you have more in common with that friend than you think.
Identify Your Goals
As I mentioned, there were days when it was difficult to even get out of bed at its worst last year. And even when I did manage to get myself up and going, I struggled with focussing and staying on task.
On the advice of my therapist, I began creating a list at the end of each day with simple, direct goals for the following days. These usually began with the entirely banal. Get out of bed. Brush my teeth. Take a shower. From there they moved into work related tasks.
Having those goals set out in an actual document meant that I had something to look back on, so that when I struggled to focus or find motivation I could simply refer to that document and see which item came next. That was hugely helpful for me staying on task.
Do remember though, your mental health struggles are real and valid. There were definitely days where I didn't accomplish everything on my list. That's okay. Do your best, and be patient and forgiving with yourself.
Your team wants you to succeed. The bottom line is that your success as an employee translates to their success as a business. So communicate what it is you need to be successful. You don't necessarily need to tell your boss why you're struggling, or disclose any mental health details, if you are not comfortable doing so, but you do need to be clear about your needs.
Do you need to take some time off? Have an hour or two set aside for therapy every week? Reduce the number of meetings that you have to attend each week? If you frame these as things that are going to help you accomplish your professional goals, more than likely your boss will accept them and be happy to do so.
If you are not comfortable discussing these needs with your boss, reach out to your HR department. That's what they are there for. Whatever the case, dealing with your mental health head on and communicating your needs is far more beneficial to your professional reputation than simply letting it fester and potentially having it negatively affect your work.
Be Kind to Yourself
This really is my most important tip. Depression is hard. It was hard for me, and I don't deal with it nearly as bad as many people I know.
Recognize that there are going to be days where you feel like a failure, where you don't accomplish anything you want to, where things fall through the cracks. Try not to beat yourself up over them. As long as you're doing the best you can, and attempting to deal with your mental health and improve it, you're doing a great job.
You're a rock star. Good luck out there, I'm rooting for you.