Chances are, someone at your workplace has depression. It could be a co-worker; it could be you. Not just a case of the blues, not deadline burnout, but chronic, clinical depression that requires ongoing treatment. According to Mental Health America, one in 20 workers is experiencing depression at any given time. And you don’t just snap out of it with a little willpower. It’s a process that starts by getting the help you need. Here’s how people manage at work while dealing head-on with depression.
Recognize the signs. You’re tired all the time. Cooperating with colleagues — even talking to them — takes an enormous effort. You keep your office door shut and interact with your computer. Or you visit the employee restroom for another crying jag. It’s hard to concentrate and impossible to summon up a positive attitude. Along with morale, your productivity is down the drain. It takes you longer to get things done, and co-workers notice that you seem out of it. Deadlines don’t motivate you — they just pile on more stress. You’re calling in sick. Or, you’re spending lots of extra time on the job, burying yourself in tasks to avoid your emotions. You’re suffering and so is your work. It’s time to seek treatment.
Take a mental health break. Betsy Aimee (who did not use her full name to maintain her privacy), 33, works in public relations in Los Angeles. In her 20s, depression entered her life. “I was really in a little bit of denial about what was happening to me,” she says. Aimee describes herself as a “full type-A, very-critical-of-myself individual.” It’s hard when you can’t function as well as you’re used to, but slogging on doesn’t work when you’re in a downward spiral. “When you’re at a crossroads in terms of your mental health, you need to really say, ‘OK, I’m going to ask for five days off,'” Aimee says. “That might mean the difference between me not having a mental health breakdown, or needing to take additional time off.”
Find treatment. If you had a bad case of the flu, you’d take time off to recover, right? And if you developed diabetes, you’d put work aside to find a doctor and get stabilized. “Depression is no different from any other chronic condition,” says Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America. “To stay with it and maintain an independent and productive life — it’s important to identify it, get the appropriate treatment and then stick with that treatment.” When it comes to counseling sessions or tracking medications and their side effects, there’s no one-and-done treatment. “People should be going back even as they would with any other doctor and say, ‘OK, is this the right med, is this the right course for me?'” he says.
Check into workplace services and insurance. With chronic conditions — like depression — you have workplace protections against discrimination. “‘Otherwise qualified’ is always the terminology,” Gionfriddo says. “If you are otherwise qualified, then a reasonable accommodation has to be made.” In practical terms, he says, that might mean “when you need to take a day off and check out, you do that,” without fear of jeopardizing your job. Then, he says, you come back to work when you “can give it a 100 percent again.” Many workplaces have employee assistance programs that include confidential mental health services. Also, look into your health insurance coverage for treatment including counseling and medication.