How to Do Your Job When Depression Affects Your Functioning
Like many average people that we share the world with, people living with depression have good days and bad days. However, when you have depression, your bad brain day can turn into bad brain days, weeks, months, etc. Depending on the nature of your depression and depressive episodes (frequency, severity and length), it can sometimes feel impossible to manage your life in any area, much less a job.
In very extreme cases where safety and health is involved, there is not much you can or should do other than focus on getting well. Beyond those severe circumstances, I believe there are strategies that you can employ to help your odds of meeting the demands of your career while going through a depressive episode.
Five Ways to to Do the Job When Depression Affects Functioning
Recognize When a Depressive Episode Is Impacting Your Job
The first step in increasing the odds that you will be able to manage your career demands while experiencing an episode of depression is to recognize if you are, in fact, experiencing an episode of depression. If you are familiar with how your depression manifests, it may be easy to know when an episode is coming on and how severe it is going to be. It is usually determined by what, if anything, triggered the depression and your typical baseline. Individuals with dysthymia (also known as chronic depression) are accustomed to feeling a slight sense of sadness mostly all the time for at least two years consecutively.
The usually display of major depressive disorder is periods of the symptoms for at least two weeks but not better explained by another mood disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) created by the American Psychiatric Association has established the criteria for these illnesses and their specifiers. Those who experience episodes that are classified as “mild” or “moderate” in the DSM-V should be able to use some of the strategies listed in this article. Those classified as “severe” typically need to focus on getting well: by definition, the DSM-V states, “the symptoms markedly interfere with social and occupational functioning.”If you feel certain that depression is the cause of your dysfunction, you are ready for the next step.
Arm Yourself With Tools That Improved Your Mood Before
When you feel a bout of depression coming on, be sure to utilize coping skills and other depression treatment options that you know have served you well in the past. Some of the things that I make sure I am consistently doing are: staying in therapy, taking medication and constantly using coping skills that I’ve learned along the way. Once you have found the right treatment combination and have implemented it consistently over time, it should be easier to use these skills to help defeat a bout of depression.
Alert Your Support System and Employer That You Are Unwell
When you recognize that you are not functioning well and are downward-spiraling, notify your support system, which may include your family, friends, therapist and/or psychiatrist. It is important to let your supervisor know that you are sick (you do not have to reveal the nature of your illness). By communicating your status, your support system and your job can begin preparing to help accommodate you throughout your episode.
Prioritize Work Tasks when Your Depression has Decreased Your Productivity
When you feel yourself not being as productive due to the symptoms of depression, prioritize your work tasks based on deadlines and importance. Check with your supervisor to see if there is flexibility with certain tasks and other people that can assist. Make sure you commit your energy to the most pressing issues.
Execute Job Duties to the Best of Your Ability
Try to do your job to the best of your ability with the understanding that your best during a depressive episode will not look like your best when you are not depressed. If you have done all of the appropriate things to ensure the most success while going through your spell, be confident that you have given it your best shot. You may not get employee of the month. You may even get criticized or talked to about your decreased productivity and lackluster work performance. Nevertheless, these are the breaks when you are courageous enough to attempt managing a job when you suffer with depression. You are certainly a winner despite the outcome of your employment situation. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you make it through your depressive episode and keep your job.
Barrett, C. (2014, November 23). How to Do Your Job When Depression Affects Your Functioning, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/workandbipolarordepression/2014/11/how-to-get-the-job-done-when-depression-affects-your-ability-to-function
Author: Charity Barrett
I'm so sorry to hear you're struggling with this. I know how challenging and frustrating it can be to find effective, affordable mental health treatment, and it absolutely shouldn't be this way. I've included a link below that offers some alternatives to this problem and provides information for where you can look to hopefully find mental health treatment in your area.
If you're still having issues, feel free to get in touch again and I'll see if there's any other info I can provide. Wishing you the best.
- Natalie (Author of Work and Bipolar or Depression)
I had to give up my job in healthcare (which I loved) because performance management policies didn't take account of my illness, despite my managers being aware that I was on a long waiting list for treatment. When you have depression and anxiety the last thing you need is being given extra responsibilities, then taken to task for not coping. It is like pouring petrol onto a fire. As someone who is conscientious and holds myself to high standards, this was unbearable. I tried so hard to comply, but the gargantuan effort it took to achieve even small improvements left me with nothing in reserve, so when the process was escalated I spiralled down even further, to the point that if I hadn't resigned I have no doubt that I would have acted on the suicidal thoughts I was experiencing.
Nobody should have to go through that, especially working for a health organisation. I miss my work and my colleagues more than I can say, but am trying to channel the sadness and feelings of being badly let down into something positive, so am lobbying for change: better awareness of mental health issues, training for managers, and for mental health to be given the same weighting and understanding as physical health. Too late for me, unfortunately, but I hope it might help me come to terms with things if I can use my experience as a catalyst for improvement.
Stay strong, and believe in yourself, even when it is difficult. Depression is recoverable, given time and the right support. Ask for help, and take it when it is offered. You don't have to do this on your own. Remember there are many others going through something similar, and it is not your fault. It doesn't mean you are weak or lazy, and it isn't a character flaw. In fact it probably means you care too much. Good luck, everyone.
My manager paused and looked at me and said "I think you need to find techniques to be more productive at work"
No one can possibly know what it is like to have depression if they haven't experienced it. To be consumed by crippling 'episodes' and the daily fight with yourself that leaves you unable to even muster the energy to take basic care of yourself. Seemingly small tasks like washing your hair or making dinner take serious emotional evaluation.
Sometimes I can't cope. I can't just suddenly become more productive. I can't just "take a day" and suddenly come back fighting fit... it's me I'm fighting and I'm black and blue.
I've suffered from recurring depressive episodes for the last 10 years. Even though my employer was supportive, I quit my job during the first episode, which lasted about 3 months. At the time I was living in a place far away from family and didn't have any social support and this was the right decision for me then.
Since then I have moved closer to home and found a partner who I can be myself with in the worst of my episodes. My partner really helps with the day to day support, especially on days where I cannot get out of bed. Having family to occasionally prod me for things also makes a big difference in getting me out and moving if not writing stellar reports for my boss while I am going through my depressive episodes. It helps having them around, generally, even when they sometimes lose patience with me. They give context to the disease, help me to stay centred and realize how the idea of not being loved and not having a purpose is a symptom. Of course, learning other aforementioned coping skills has helped too.
My hometown is a place where people are less aware and supportive of mental illness. I have had no choice but to disclose to my immediate bosses as when they come the episodes are sometimes debilitating and I have also used up my annual leave to cover for it as sick leave wasn't enough. So far with my current employer I have had one really bad episode that lasted 2 months about a year into the job and am in the middle of a second episode, 2 years later, where it's been a month but I am only starting to feel better and it's too early to tell if my mood will stick. I am still trying to figure out the best way to work with my employer about what is happening. One of my bosses sort of gets it (in the way that people not having gone through this can imagine it) and the other one is getting impatient and pushy. It's hard because by the time I realize I am down I am already not in a place where I can be decisive and make the kind of decisions that'll help me cope through the episode. I don't really feel ready to discuss this with my colleagues, but I also did have to tell the other person on my team when that first episode happened. Thankfully they were supportive too. I wish I lived in a place where I could feel safe to be open about my condition. When I am not sick I deliver solid work, probably better than average. People don't remember the solid work in the times when I am sick though. Boss #2 who I work with the most is difficult as her personality doesn't allow for consistency and this kind of long term consistency in our team needs to come from me but I can't provide it when an episode hits. I just feel like I haven't seen any good examples of workplace ideas that can incorporate the kind of fluctuations I go through. I wish famous successful people would share more about this aspect of living with a mental illness.
I'm the current author of another HealthyPlace blog, 'Coping with Depression.' I came across your comment and wanted to give you a big hug. I have felt like you have many times. You mentioned your music. Keep and hold on to that. I hope you will be able to find other things that can bring you some joy.
I'm the author of a different HealthyPlace blog, 'Coping with Depression,' but I came across your blog post and wanted to let you know I understand these feelings very well. I do agree that it would be nice for more famous, successful people to share about living with mental illness.
I wish you the best,
It's remarkable that you keep going, I admire and respect that so much. I've used almost all of my PTO for this year due to illness (not the mental kind, ha). I'm Bipolar II and experiencing a depressive episode; I've been hypomanic since I started my job three months ago. Now everyone wants to know where the other Cassidy went; little do they know, there's more than one Cassidy.
I am the current author of a different blog, 'Coping with Depression.' I came across your comment and wanted to let you know how much I truly understand everything that you've written. I'm so sorry you are going through this right now. I'm proud of you for trying to speak with your manager. I want to encourage you to seek treatment for your depression and anxiety if you're not already. Here is an article on Depression Treatment Options: https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/depression-treatment/depression-treatment-options/
I wish you the best,
Pretending to be ok when you are severely depressed and barely hanging on is completely exhausting. Its an unending effort. You have to smile. You have to be aware of body language. You need to make eye contact. You've gotta say the right things and in context. Its actually really really hard. I've learned to pretend. For me, I ALWAYS make sure I look really good. When people see me makeup looking great, clothes well styled they all assume I'm on top of my game. Little does this world know I am really balled up in a corner crying, I am really crying inside despite my best red lips. I'm a single mom know, which has exponentially magnified a particular darkness, emptiness, and brokenness in me that I haven't been able to shake. I can not express enough that I am so tired. I am so tired of pretending. I'm tired of acting like I'm ok when I'm really not and I need help. :( I don't feel like anyone understands what I'm going through.... but I know that's not true bc I've found this post. Would anyone like to talk about your sadness/social anxiety/depression? If you do, and I don't care if its 2029 you may write to me at email@example.com
At my last job (my job was outsourced) I decided to "come out" as a person with chronic depression to try and fight the stigma that comes with having a mental illness. Everybody was very understanding and supportive - until I had to take time off when I had a depressive episode. I was spoken to by both my manager and the HR manager, who made vague threats regarding my absences from work - even though I had a letter from my psychiatrist stating that I needed to be off work. I know that their attitude would have been different if I had suffered with a "physical" illness because they were definitely more understanding before I disclosed my illness and other people with problems like gallstones or sports injuries were not hassled about being off work. Lesson learned.