The question of “how to deal with depression at work” is complex. Work can be a place that provides an individual with purpose, satisfaction, and a social life, all of which can boost their mental health. However, not all employees have a positive experience at work. Work-related stress, feeling unsupported, and a lack of passion for the goal of the job, amongst other factors, can act as catalysts for depression at work.
When a person experiences depression, it impacts all areas of their lives. Depression does not just switch off when an employee arrives at work. Managing responsibilities, tasks, and colleagues whilst dealing with depression can worsen symptoms over time.
Additionally, maintaining a job whilst struggling with a mental health disorder such as major depression can be a tremendous challenge that causes many people to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are many ways to alleviate symptoms of work depression, including asking for adjustments to working hours or taking a mental health day.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental health condition characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, irritability, and a loss of interest in life. It is a common mood disorder, with an estimated 5% of adults suffering from depression worldwide. There is no singular cause of depression; it can impact a person’s life due to a number of factors that can combine to induce symptoms of depression.
Some of the symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of emptiness
- Feeling low
- Low self-esteem and excessive guilt
- Lack of concentration and focus
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Disrupted sleep and insomnia
- Sleeping too much
- Limited energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Loss of libido
- Persistent aches, pains, cramps, or headaches
- Suicidal thoughts
Depression can impact both personal and professional life. Yet many people feel ashamed about having an open dialogue about it due to the stigma attached to mental health disorders. However, it is essential to work towards changing perceptions of depression to offer people a safe and supportive space to talk openly about it.
What Can Lead to Depression at Work?
Because work is such a considerable part of daily life, it is common for depression to result from the workplace. Some people experience toxic working environments, whilst others don’t enjoy their work or role.
In some instances, depression will intensify as a result of work concerns. However, for some, depression may stem directly from work. Some factors that can cause workplace depression include:
- Not feeling interested or passionate about work
- Workplace bullying
- A toxic work environment
- Experiencing discrimination or harassment at work
- Working irregular hours
- An unhealthy work-life balance
- A lack of control over work problems
- Concerns surrounding being fired
- Being overworked and feeling overwhelmed
- Being underpaid
- Working somewhere that doesn’t align with personal ethics
- Experiencing unsafe working conditions
What Are Some Signs of Depression at Work?
Many of the signs of workplace depression are the same as the symptoms of depression. However, some people are high functioning and can hide their symptoms, so it is not always clear who is suffering.
The following signs may arise in employees who have depression at work:
- Making an increasing amount of mistakes
- Frequently arriving late to work
- Increased absence from work
- Low motivation and energy
- Loss of interest in work tasks
- Taking naps at work
- Avoiding work colleagues and social settings
- Poor hygiene or change in appearance
- Missing deadlines and meetings
Can Working From Home Contribute to Mental Health Conditions?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees have worked from home. Though working from home comes hand-in-hand with many benefits, such as increased comfort levels, it has some significant downsides, which can lead to poor mental health and exacerbate symptoms of depression.
The Blurring of Personal and Professional Life
A lack of clear boundaries between personal and professional life may feel appealing initially, but it can take its toll on an employee’s mental health. Adhering to a structured routine can be very difficult, and it is easy to slip into unproductive habits when working from home.
Lack of Social Environment
Working from home has left many employees feeling disconnected from others and, in turn, lonely. This can be detrimental to each person’s mental health and can lead to feelings associated with depression.
If an employee is working from home, it is vital that they actively maintain social contact with colleagues, friends, and family members to feel more connected. Exchanging messages and emails are not a satisfactory substitute for face-to-face interaction, so meeting up with people can help ease feelings of loneliness that are often a driving force of depression.
Creating a daily structure and adhering to it can be extremely challenging and lead to overwork and burnout, but a social environment can assist in managing this.
What Are Some Tips for Managing Depression at Work?
Depression is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if it has a long-term and substantial effect on an employee’s ability to engage in activities, such as attending work or completing specific tasks. If an employee’s condition aligns with the definition set out in the Equality Act, they have legal protection from workplace discrimination.
Treating a mental health disorder such as depression the same way a physical illness would be treated is vital. For some people, sharing how they feel with someone they trust is an important first step in self-care.
Talking about depression can help many people feel less alone and as though a weight has been lifted from their shoulders. Some people choose to speak to a friend, family member, or colleague that they trust. If they feel comfortable, they may also talk to their line manager or immediate supervisor to gain support in the workplace.
Employees can discuss the benefits of making small yet effective changes to their working day or area by talking to a manager. Some people find that asking to change the space they work in, for example, by moving their desk to an area of the office that is more private, quieter, or in a different location, helps them feel more comfortable at work, especially if they have difficulty concentrating.
Making changes to daily schedules, such as taking short breaks or asking to start work later, can help people with depression. Discussing the possibility of changing work assignments or roles within the organisation can also assist those with severe depression in regaining lost productivity and improving their work performance.
Talk With a Mental Health Professional
For those living with depression, it is important to seek additional support outside of work to get to the root cause of their problems and understand how to reduce the effect depression has on their lives. Engaging in therapy comes hand-in-hand with significant mental health benefits as therapists and counsellors can offer practical tips to help those in need transform their well-being.
Making changes to daily routines such as regularly exercising, eating healthy meals, and seeing friends or loved ones can all help to ease depression symptoms. If this feels like too much, having regular phone calls with a loved one can also help ease symptoms of depression due to enhancing connections with other people.
Although depression can be hard to talk about, those living with the condition do not need to suffer alone. Managing work depression can be made much easier by talking to an employer, colleague, or friends and family members.
There are plenty of simple adjustments that an employer can make to improve the health and well-being of their employees. With the right support and coping strategies, symptoms of depression can be reduced both inside and outside of work.