How to Work When You’re Depressed

by Evil HR Lady on October 11, 2017

October 10th was World Mental Health Day. I didn’t write about it yesterday because I was traveling, but I don’t want to skip over such an important day. 18.5 percent of American Adults suffer from some type of mental illness every year. That’s 43.8 million people or almost 1 in five. Take a look around your office. There’s a good chance that there are several people in your office who have some sort of mental illness right now and you’re not even aware. Of those, over 6 million are suffering from depression.

I’m one of those people. I have anxiety and depression which is (thankfully) well managed by medication. The downside? Medication makes me fat. But, since my choices are to be fat and happy or thin and an anxious depressed mess, I’ll take the plus size clothing, thanks. You wouldn’t know that I suffer from depression if you met me, by the way, even before I was on medication because I’m good at putting on a happy face. And chances are, there is someone at your office, or maybe you, who is also good at getting through life when she feels rotten.

If you’re depressed, you still have to go to work and earn money. It’s how it is. Plus, you need that health insurance more than ever! Some of the best tips I’ve ever read on functioning with depression come from Jennifer P, also known as, Captain Awkward in her 2013 article, “How to Tighten Your Game When You’re Depressed.” I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, but here are some of her ideas:

To keep reading, click here: How to Work When You’re Depressed

And if you are depressed and you can only bring yourself to read one article on the topic, click on the Captain Awkward link above. Sure, I love your hits on my article, but the Captain Awkward one is a must-read for anyone with depression and a job and school.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill October 11, 2017 at 4:15 pm

I know both your post and the Captain’s article were geared toward someone suffering a mental illness. But I appreciate what was also implied – that even with a mental illness, one can still be expected to show basic professionalism like getting to work on time, being showered and dressed properly, and generally behaving like a decent coworker.

I think a lot of managers feel like an employee who’s dealing with a mental illness is somehow untouchable and beyond reproach. I worked with someone who was struggling – her illness manifested as a lot of phone slamming and heavy-thing-throwing and loud, angry swearing. It was scary and management said nothing because “she’s struggling with X so we can’t discipline her.”

That kind of attitude doesn’t do anything for the morale of the team and it doesn’t do anything to help that employee succeed in the workplace. Your tips are solid – both in terms of what someone with an illness can strive for and in terms of things it’s OK to discipline over.

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Evil HR Lady October 11, 2017 at 7:53 pm

Thanks! It’s a scary thing to navigate.

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grannybunny October 11, 2017 at 6:40 pm

The Captain Awkward article is exceptionally good. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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Evil HR Lady October 11, 2017 at 7:52 pm

It is exceptionally good. I share it on Twiter from time to time, but this is the first time I’ve linked it here.

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Nicholas MOSES October 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm

This is something that speaks to me a lot, having had to work and speak intimately with many, many colleagues and clients (our business was accompanying them for a technical problem at a pivotal life/career point, to boot) much part of the day in the first part of my career in addition to trying to listen to and understand the angst and anguishes of friends and family. (Nowadays I’m highly autonomous in my professional life – actually self-employed – , so I mostly only have to deal with my own psychoses and those of the people I like personally. 🙂 ) But I learned a lot during that time and I did a lot of research on psychiatry, mental health and psychology (on this latter, there’s a lot of good stuff but also a lot of garbage to slog through).

Here’s a basic principle to keep in mind: in a work setting it’s always a two-way street: the employee, and the employer. Each has rights and responsibilities, and the rights of the one are the responsibilities of the other. It’s so simple but people complicate it by papering over buzzwords and other various dainties. And when you’re spiraling into deep anxiety or depression, you have a tendency to complicate banal things even more.

Mrs. Lucas did very well to address both sides of the issue. Employers need to have the social maturity and self-confidence to know the difference between an employee reacting to a bad environment and an employee who’s not well enough to adjust properly to the productive routine. And patience and understanding is not the same as lying down and being walked over. Jill’s point about “her illness manifested as a lot of phone slamming and heavy-thing-throwing and loud, angry swearing” is highly salient. Sickness behavior is one thing: acting like a child is quite another.

Employees need to keep in mind that their right to a paycheck is contingent on their responsibility to produce the work they have agreed to. Sometimes you can’t do as much as you could, but if you let your frustration get to you you’ll only make things worse. And refusal to adopt or adhere to a routine or protocol only makes depression worse. The hardest part is starting, but once you accept that not starting is worse than slogging through, you’ve completed the first step to mastering your emotions.

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Laura October 12, 2017 at 9:46 pm

Ok, what a great topic.

It’s really really difficult to manage work when your personal life is trembling.

I had a really hard time myself when I lost a dear relative. I kept sobbing all day. I sat in front of the computer and froze myself, start crying. Fortunately, a few weeks later I ‘slapped’ myself and told me to stop feeding my depression…I made it even worse! So I basically started changing my mourning and thought “xxxx wouldn’t want me to be like this, I need to recover and move on”…and so I did. Was it easy? Hell no, but it was worth it.

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charlene October 13, 2017 at 5:40 pm

THANK YOU!!! This is such an important topic and resonates so deeply with me. It should be more talked about and less stigmatized

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