Workplace Stress and Illness

Dealing With Depression at Work: What You Need to Know

Many of you who have heard me speak know, how a series of life ‘crises’ catapulted me into a severe depression…and then to my story of recovery.   The response I received since then tells me that I’m not alone in this plight, and that many of us have experienced a similar personal crisis.

One of the hardest parts of my ordeal was that, in the midst of it all, I still had to be a functional adult and stay on top of my job responsibilities. And while there are many great books and websites about how to deal with depression or anxiety at work, I also want to share some suggestions based on my own experience for making it through the tough times — and even thriving.

1. Get Help

If you’ve recognized that you’re depressed, then hopefully, you’ve already begun treatment for depression—working with a counsellor/life coach, therapist and/or support group is the best way to help you cope with your symptoms, which in turn will help you better manage your professional life.

If not, keep in mind that most employer-based insurance plans offer some type of mental health coverage. Many companies offer additional mental health services through their Employee Assistance Program or through your Union Local at little or no cost. If you’re unsure about the coverage you have, reach out to HR or your Local and inquire about the specifics of your plan. Also read your company’s policies and procedures regarding medical leave and sick days in case you need to take time off for medical appointments.

If you’re self-employed, check out your insurance policy and see what kind of mental health benefits it includes. When the EAP plan runs out, look into community mental health centers, which often offer services on a sliding fee scale.

2. Find Support

It’s key to find a trusted friend, ideally at work, who can support you through this difficult time. There will be tough days—some that seem nearly impossible—on the road to recovery, and I can’t stress how important it is to have someone to lean on and talk to. In my case, I found several friends at work that had been through similar experiences.  If you don’t want to share what’s going on with anyone at the office, make sure you have supportive friends and family to talk to. Life Coaching is another great way to realize that you’re not alone in your struggle. There are many ways to deal with depression and anxiety and a life coach is a great place for some new, fresh, coping strategies for the workplace.

3. Set Clear Goals

One of the difficult things about my depression was that it made it nearly impossible for me to focus. I had to set very clear goals for myself and be realistic about what I would be able to accomplish—and I had to do it on a daily basis.

I would create lists for the day and highlight my top priorities, which would ensure that I was meeting the needs of my most important audience—my boss. I would also double check any important memos, give myself extra time to prepare assignments, and have a colleague give my work a second look if I was having a rough week. During staff meetings, I would take copious notes because I knew that my memory retention was failing me.

Do whatever helps you, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you have a difficult day. The road to recovery is a walk, not a marathon.

4. Speak Up

If things are incredibly difficult, or if you need to take more time off than your mental health days allow, you may need to say something to your employer and get advice from your Union Local representative. During a particularly difficult week, I finally told my boss that I was dealing with depression. I was so worried that she would figure out something was wrong, and I decided I would rather let her know that it was depression and not a lack of interest in my work.

Obviously, not everyone has that kind of relationship with their supervisor, so don’t feel obligated to disclose details. If you’re taking a lot of time off or you’re worried others will wonder what’s going on, you can tell them that you’ve been “dealing with some health issues” and leave it at that. Or, consult with HR to determine the best approach.

If you don’t want to discuss specifics with your colleagues at all, request a few days off and do whatever helps you cope with your symptoms and re-group. Really.  It may mean the difference between maintaining your professional reputation and having a breakdown at the office.

5. Take Care of Yourself

A valuable lesson I took away from my experience is that it’s okay to take time to take care of yourself—in fact, it’s actually a very important factor in your professional success. I ignored my symptoms for a long time and was so busy with work that it seemed ludicrous to take time for myself.  But after my meltdown, I realized that self care, (or as I called it, “The Keeping Jackie Functioning Care”) made me a better, happier employee—and what company doesn’t benefit from that?

Finally, remember that you won’t only get through this, you may even be a better employee and discover new things about yourself because of it. In the meantime, find your village of support and don’t ever feel the need to suffer in silence. You are definitely not alone.


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