My worst fear was that I would lose my job. I had missed more days of work in the last 2 months than I had in the last 2 years. Because of my sleep problems, I was tired and irritable all the time and I felt less productive. I was running behind in my paperwork for the first time. Even when I did get work done, I felt it wasn’t any good.
The physical and mental effects of depression can have a big impact on your work — both your ability to make it to work every day and to be productive. If you’ve spent some time away from work because of depression, returning to your workplace can be awkward. This chapter discusses how you can minimize the effects of depression on one of the important areas of your life.
Limiting the effect of depression on the job
Depressive symptoms such as sleep problems, aches and pains, fatigue, poor concentration, and irritability can interfere with work functioning. You can manage most of these work problems by following some important guidelines.
It is important to try to improve organization, because concentration and memory problems are part of depression. Start each day with a list of priorities that need to be accomplished. On Sunday, or prior to the first day of your work week, make a list of things that need to be accomplished over the week and then note things that need to be accomplished on the next day.
Pacing yourself at work is very important, because depression is associated with increased fatigue. Set reasonable deadlines, giving yourself a little longer than usual to complete projects and goals. Make sure that you are taking a lunch break every day and, if you have the time at lunch, spend a half hour in an enjoyable activity. This can include activities like taking a walk outside, talking with a trusted friend, or reading an enjoyable book. Try to limit overtime work, and make sure that you are scheduling enjoyable activities on your weekends. Exercise is often helpful to clear your mind of worries, and it can improve your mood and self-esteem.
Find ways to control your anxiety and irritability in the workplace. Depression can amplify both of these emotions. If you are feeling irritable or angry with a coworker or boss, try to take a break and cool down before reapproaching the situation. If you are more anxious about a project or presentation you have to do, practice with a friend or coworker. Outline small steps to complete in order to finish the project and the time you will leave yourself for each.
When depression keeps you from the job
If depression causes you to take time from work for more than 3 or 4 days, it is important to get help from a health professional. You may find that some professionals may be more focused than others on helping you resume your activities.
When seeking professional help, be very specific about what you want. Explain that your goal is to resume working as soon as possible; describe your work activities and explain the specific problems you are having on the job. Ask the provider if he or she can help with this problem. If your provider cannot help, ask her or him to refer you to another health professional.
There are some easy ways to judge whether the health provider is likely to help you resume activities. If you answer “yes” to the following questions, then you are probably getting the assistance you need to get back to work quickly.
- Does the provider have a definite plan for my returning to work or resuming a key activity?
- Has a definite time been set for returning to work or resuming a key activity?
- Is the provider making a specific plan with either antidepressant medication or counseling to try to relieve symptoms like sleep, energy, and concentration problems?
- Is the provider willing to write a note or talk to my supervisor to speed my return to work?
If you don’t feel able to return immediately to your previous level of work, you may want to offer to return part-time or start with a reduced workload. The offer will communicate to your employer that you want to work and to return as soon as possible to your prior activities. Many times, returning part-time may be better for you financially than prolonging your time off. In addition, people who return to normal activities, including work, recover faster and have fewer depression problems than those who are not working. Working regularly can take your mind off worries and help you structure your day so that the worries associated with depression will be less painful and distracting. Thus, returning to work is likely to be good for your job security, finances, self-esteem, and health.
When you return to work, the best way to protect your reputation and job security is to be conscientious about your duties and responsibilities. There may be times that you are less productive or have to miss a day, but if possible, you should make the effort to work despite your symptoms.
Depression and the americans with disabilities act
The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination due to an illness. Therefore, employees are not allowed to discriminate against you based on your history of depression. In most cases, effective treatment will help you regain your productivity and prevent days missed from work due to depression.
Another tricky situation may arise when applying for a job. Many job applicants with a history of depression don’t know whether to tell prospective employers about their condition. Experts familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act believe that if you are physically and mentally capable of performing the job, it is best not to volunteer information about your depression. If you are positive you can handle the job, then your depression history is not relevant, and employers are not allowed to ask you about it. It is fair for employers to ask if you have any current health problems that would prevent you from undertaking the responsibilities of the job. You should answer honestly, emphasizing your ability to perform the job reliably and without risk.
If you get a job without informing your employer about your history of depression, there might well be a time when it is important to raise this issue. For instance, if a relapse occurs, you may need time to seek medical help. Depression is a medical disorder; therefore, you can state more generally that you are seeking help for a medical problem. If your work situation is supportive and understanding, you may choose to be more specific about the problem.