Feeling down or depressed is part of the human condition. Life can throw you for a loop sometimes. But there’s feeling depressed, like when your sports teams blows it or you haven’t seen the sun in two weeks, and there’s depression, which can be a serious and chronic medical condition. It is important to know the difference.
If depression or feeling depressed have started affecting your job, here are seven questions to consider.
- Am I depressed as a result of my job?
If you are struggling with feeling depressed on the job, it may not necessarily be depression. There are many factors (ineffective use of time, disagreements with coworkers, etc.) that can leave you feeling lackluster and deflated at work without it affecting the rest of your life. Before you launch into the full-blown belief that you suffer with depression, take a good look at your job. You may be feeling burned out or need to change some things.
“Feeling like you have hit a dead end can add to depression,” says Lisa Bahar, LMFT, LPCC, a family therapist and clinical counselor, in Dana Point, Calif. “When an individual is in a job that lacks growth and is fostering complacency, there is a [sense of] a lack of worth,” she said. “They feel innately that their value is not as high as they would like. Yet there may be a fear to ask for more support since there is a sense that they are not valued by the organization. This can make individuals feel trapped.”
–Is your job a good fit? A perfect fit is pretty rare. Still, if you’re an accountant when you’d clearly rather be a personal trainer, crunching numbers isn’t going to be as fulfilling as doing crunches.
–Does your job align with your principles and values? Whether your company supports a political party you strongly oppose, or you’re an animal rights activist whose coworkers are into dogfights, working in a company that doesn’t represent your values can leave you feeling isolated and left out.
–Are you working so much that you don’t have a life outside of work? Did you sign on for 40 hours and find that your employer seems to work on a different clock than you (that’s 72 in dog hours)? If you have kids, are you missing out on valuable time to connect with them? These are a big deal.
-Are you getting paid enough? Few of us probably feel we’re getting paid what we’re worth, but when that’s paired with paltry (or no) benefits and/or poor working conditions, it’s an equation for frustration and anger that could damage other aspects of your life, including your health.
-Is management respectful and clear in their demands? Are their requests realistic? Can they be flexible in their scheduling? Or do they corner you and threaten you with loss of your livelihood? You don’t need to be a kid in school to be a victim of bullying. And you don’t have to stand for it.
All of the above conditions can lead to low morale, lack of motivation and generally feeling blasé about your work. Feeling bummed out and depressed about your work is something to be remedied. But it’s quite a different thing to struggle with actual depression.
- What are the signs and symptoms?
Whether you’re just plain feeling depressed, or working through a depressive episode on a more clinical level, the signs and symptoms can be similar. And they can vary.
Both being depressed and depression can demonstrate as:
Sleeping too much
Loss of appetite
Eating too much
No interest in activities
The difference is, feeling depressed can be remedied by a change in thinking/perspective, a pleasant activity, changing how you organize your workspace/home office or talking it out with a friend. But with depression caused by mental illness, the symptoms are stronger and persistent. They show up in every aspect of your life. And the simple actions that can remedy ‘the blues’ do not work here.
One of the key aspects of depression is how overwhelming everything feels. What was once a simple decision – like what to drink for breakfast – feels paramount to deciding the fate of the entire human race. Focus and the ability to concentrate go right out the window. You feel tired all of the time and may call in sick, sleep all day and feel no better the next day. Or, if your depression is coupled with anxiety, you will be tired all of the time, yet unable to sleep due to waves of panic. There is a frighteningly strong inclination to stay locked up and away from everyone in your office or at home, but to do so only makes matters worse.
The good news is, there are many options for treatment for depression. And once you find a treatment plan that works for you, depression in both the workplace and beyond becomes more manageable.
- Should I tell my boss or keep it on the down low?
Once you know that you’re dealing with more than just a case of feeling down, then you can begin to map out a plan for how to cope with depressive episodes while on the job.
The decision to share your situation with your boss is a personal one. It depends on a number of factors. The unfortunate truth is there is still a lot of stigma around mental illness. Some industries are more accepting of it than others. (For example, if your work has you surrounded by creative folks, you’re more likely to find acceptance than if you race cars or stamp steel.)
If you know that your symptoms are likely to alter your ability to work and you feel enough of a connection with your boss to disclose this, then it’s in your best interest to do so. In this case, it would be better to be open and honest rather than appear to be uncaring about your work.
Then again, if you feel that your boss will not understand your depression – that it’s something you can just “shake off” – then it’s better to keep quiet as it may negatively affect your relationship with him/her.
Keep in mind though there are workplace protections in place against discrimination. Your boss CANNOT fire you for expressing that you have times where you need to cope with your depression. In fact, if your history has proven than you are otherwise qualified, then reasonable accommodations need to be made. Just as they would if you needed dialysis or chemotherapy.
- What is my support system?
In establishing a solid treatment plan, having a support system in place is crucial.
Many of us spend more time per week with our work colleagues than we do with our families. If you feel comfortable enough to find support in a co-worker or two, this is an invaluable resource.
If that doesn’t feel comfortable though, turn to friends outside of work and family members (especially those who may share the hereditary trait for depression) to help you cope. Keep connected with them through texting and email while at work.
Furthermore, support groups and therapists are helpful in providing tips and strategies for coping with depression in the workplace.
- Does my job offer workplace services or insurance?
If you have health insurance through your job, you probably already know whether it covers you if your appendix bursts or you come down with a strange rash on your inner thigh. But what about counseling services, medication or other related services for mental illness? More and more companies are recognizing the need to lift the stigma and provide these services for their employees through insurance plans.
Additionally, check with your company to see if there might be already be employee assistance programs in place that include confidential mental health services.
- Am I caring for myself – mind, body and soul?
Working while coping with depression is not easy. Even when you’re managing your depression, there are still times where you may have to deal with episodes.
While you’re struggling with symptoms, you may forget that your job doesn’t take precedence. Taking care of yourself is job number one. Once you establish strategies for dealing with specific symptoms, you can better handle the stress.
-If you can, get out and move. Take a walk or a run. Stir up the endorphins.
-Though not always available, try to get enough sleep and eat foods that will nourish your body, not strain it. (Skip the McDonald’s lunch.)
-Sometimes just doing some deep breathing or yoga stretches can bring the nervous system back to equilibrium.
-Be kind to yourself. If what you did yesterday is much harder today, that’s okay. There’s no such thing as perfect, so you can let that go.
-Keep in mind that dealing with politics and personalties are part and parcel to any job. These can feel magnified while dealing with symptoms. Try not to lose sight of what’s important.
-Take time off for a mental break, if you can. You may need some time away to seek out help and find your ‘reset’ button.
-And remember, no matter how much it feels like it, you’re not alone. Take advantage of your support system. They’re there to help and support you. And they’ll remind you that this too shall pass.
For more information on coping with mental illness in the workplace, additional resources and knowing your rights, click here.