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Coping with Depression at Work

In Featured, Mental Health Resources by Beth Storch

Almost ten percent of the population experiences a depressive illness at some point in their life. An important part of recovering from depression is to participate in as many of your regular daily activities as possible, including work.  But, if you are suffering from depression, you may find working with co-workers, or even talking to them, is an enormous effort. It may be hard to concentrate and impossible to have a positive attitude. It may take you longer to get things done and deadlines don’t motivate you, instead they add to your stress. How are you going to keep on working?

Speak Up

Talking about having depression is very personal. But, to make it possible to maintain your employment, you may need to ask for accommodations. This means talking to your supervisor. Speaking up and explaining how depression affects you is the first step. Then, look at your work environment, job duties, and style of supervision and see if changes could be made that would help you work. How you do your job does not necessarily need to stay the same.  These changes are called “reasonable accommodations.” It is best to work with your supervisor when exploring accommodations so that they are changes that work for both of you. The following are accommodations that may be helpful to talk to your supervisor about:

Flexible Workplace.  A flexible work-from-home schedule.

  • Part-time work hours, job sharing, adjustments in the start or end of work hours, compensation time or “make up” of missed time.
  • Time off for medical appointments, flexible use of vacation time, and additional unpaid or administrative leave for treatment.
  • Take breaks when they are needed rather than a fixed schedule, more frequent breaks and/or greater flexibility in scheduling breaks, provision of backup coverage during breaks, and telephone breaks during work hours to call professionals and others needed for support.

Work Environment.  Have a quiet area in the office to work. Increase the natural lighting or full spectrum lighting in your work area. Listen to music or white noise (with headset) to block out distractions.

Job Duties.  Break large assignments into smaller tasks. Additional time for orientation activities, training and learning new tasks. Creation and implementation of daily “to-do” lists, step-by-step checklists, written and verbal instructions.

Management/Supervision. Come up with a very specific approach to receiving feedback so it does not feel like an attack. Change the style of supervision, such as more frequent meetings to help prioritize tasks. Asking for a different supervisor or a change in positions are not considered a reasonable accommodation.

Anticipate Job Triggers 

Another reason to speak up is that you may identify things that happen at work that can trigger your depression. If you identify a job trigger, having the support of your supervisor or co-workers may help you be proactive and do the things that will help you stay well.

You Can Succeed with Depression

Don’t forget that a large portion of the population with mental health conditions have successful careers and that work is an important component of recovery. Employment is more than making a living. The satisfaction and security of work contributes to positive self-esteem, and being part of a work team can help foster a sense of belonging. So, don’t be afraid to speak up.

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Maximizing Productivity: Accommodations for Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities