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How to Deal with Depression at Work

Article | April 2019

How to Deal with Depression at Work

Your job is a big part of your life. Dealing with depression alone is hard enough. Add to it the demands of work and it can compound depression. How do you know if you are working while depressed and how do you deal with it?

Depression is a complex disease that can be driven by a combination of things, including medical, emotional, and genetic factors, as well as environmental, situational, and even seasonal issues. The workplace may be just one of these factors. If you already battle with depression, then it’s possible you’re also dealing with depression at work.

Signs of depression at work

Here are some signs that you may be working while depressed:

  • Missing work: It could be you start calling in sick or make excuses for needing a personal day.
  • Trouble concentrating: Just can’t keep your mind focused on work? If it feels like you’re in a fog all the time or in a hopeless state of mind, this can be an indication that you’re trying to work while depressed.
  • Missed deadlines and goals: Inability to get work done or complete tasks, avoidance of phone calls and meetings, failing to achieve personal or career goals—these can be signs of depression at work.
  • Feelings of depression only when you’re at work: It could be that your workplace is the cause of depression. If you’re largely overcome with depression while at work, but not as much elsewhere, it could be that feelings of depression are driven by your job. Serious workplace issues like harassment, discrimination, abuse, and bullying can eventually lead to feelings of depression, if left unaddressed.
  • Fatigue and lack of energy: Tired all the time? Feel like you have no energy to do your job? Persistent fatigue can be a sign of depression.

 

Dealing with depression in the workplace

 If you’re dealing with depression at work, try these tips. They are not intended as a cure, but could help provide ways to better cope if you’re dealing with depression at work.

  • Acknowledge depression: Possibly the first step to managing depression in the workplace is acknowledging it. Come to terms with how you are feeling. What may be driving depression for you? Is it a major depressive disorder? Is your depression work-related? Or is something else causing it? It’s not an easy thing to think about, or to come to terms with, but important for managing depression at work and elsewhere.
  • Seek assistance: Depression will likely not just go away by itself. It’s important that you find a professional you can connect with and feel safe talking to. If you have a health plan through your employer, they may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of your benefits. These programs provide no-cost, confidential counselors and therapists. If you’re uncomfortable with using services offered through your employer, then consider finding an outside therapist or even group therapy. Connecting with others can help.
  • Follow your provider’s plan of treatment: If you’re seeing a therapist or other behavioral health practitioner it’s important you follow their course of treatment and therapy. If you are taking medication for depression, you need to take it in accordance with your provider’s direction. Never stop taking medication without first talking to your doctor or therapist.
  • Plan time away from work: Strategically plan your time off and vacations so you have something to look forward to, as well as boundaries between work and personal time. Looking forward to a vacation away can help ease feelings of depression in the workplace, particularly if workplace stress and your responsibilities are largely to blame.
  • Schedule short breaks: Get up and walk, stretch, or plan a lunch break outside. Taking a few moments a day away from your work area may help with mood and give you fresh focus. If you need a “time out” and have the chance to walk away for a few minutes, then do it.
  • Practice self-care: If you’re working depressed, it takes a lot of energy to think about how to be good to yourself. Self-care really includes many of the previous tips, including therapy or counseling. Additionally, try to add in things you may enjoy and could provide a mood boost, such as meditation, yoga, running or working out, hiking, gardening, listening to your favorite music, or a hobby. Exercise, in particular, boosts endorphins1, which can help lift your mood. Getting outdoors and into the sunshine can raise serotonin levels in the brain.2 This is the same brain chemical that many types of anti-depressants help stimulate.3 While it may sound trivial—exercise and sunshine—these activities are natural mood enhancers.

 

Self-care alone cannot cure depression. Small positive changes in your daily routine may help you feel better, but working with a behavioral professional is most important for long-term management of depression.

How does depression affect productivity?

Depression and workplace productivity can significantly counteract each other. This is a common challenge for many people suffering from depression. Employers suffer, too: The estimated cost, due to loss of productivity related to depression and its effects, is in the billions of dollars.4

Why is it hard to keep up workplace performance when you’re depressed? The symptoms of depression can be debilitating. Depression can affect productivity in these ways:5

  • Lack of concentration
  • Procrastination
  • Absence
  • Lack of initiative or motivation
  • Low energy, fatigue
  • Decline in problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • Poor communication with others
  • And more

Depression at work is a challenge for many. Self-care and daily changes in your routine may help, but it’s important you talk to your doctor, a therapist, or behavioral provider for long-term management of depression. Without treatment, depression can worsen. 

Man sitting in front of his computer in his office with his head in his hand

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Always consult your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Any third party content is the responsibility of such third party. Cigna does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any third party content and is not responsible for such content. Your access to and use of this content is at your sole risk.

Sources:

Depression in the Workplace, Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-workplace, accessed April 5, 2019.

How to Deal with Depression at Work, Fast Company, November 16, 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/90266475/how-to-deal-with-depression-at-work

What causes depression, Harvard Health Publishing, April 11, 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression

1 Exercise and Depression, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1, accessed April 10, 2019.

2 What Are the Benefits of Sunlight? Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight, accessed April 10, 2019.

3 Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825, accessed April 10, 2019.

4 Depression Costs the Country Billions in Lost Productivity, National Network of Depression Centers, January 18, 2017, https://nndc.org/depression-costs-the-country-billions-in-lost-productivity/

5 Depression: A Costly Condition for Businesses, American Psychiatric Association, Center for Workplace Mental Health, http://workplacementalhealth.org/Mental-Health-Topics/Depression, accessed April 24, 2019.