How to cope with depression at work

Depression experts and sufferers share their advice.

Depression feat

We all like a whinge about the 'depressing' aspects of working an actual adult job, whether it's the Sunday night 'blues', #humpday or those mornings when train delays come between us and Starbucks. On a bad day, they might feel like the end of the world, but none of these crappy feelings compares to working while suffering from depression.

We spoke to the experts at Mind to find out what support you're entitled to from your boss, how you can help colleagues who are struggling with mental health problems and how to make it through to 5.30 when you feel like the world's going to end.

How does depression actually affect a person at work?

Source: Newscast/Time To Change

The most commonly diagnosed mental health problem is a combination of depression and anxiety, which affects 1 in 10 people. Depression alone affects more than 2% of the population.

According to Mind's Head of Workplace Wellbeing, Emma Mamo, workplace pressures such as long hours, an increased workload, fear of redundancy or unreasonable targets can worsen or even cause depression.

She says: "Depression affects everyone differently, but there are some common symptoms. An employee experiencing a bout of depression may struggle with motivation, punctuality and decision-making."

Tasha, a 22-year-old beauty therapist, found that depression affected her confidence when she started her job at a hotel spa.

"My depression causes insomnia so sometimes I have to force myself to get out of bed after only two or three hours sleep," she says. "I often called in sick just so I didn't have to pretend to smile, and on the days I forced myself to go in I'd often just cry during the journey and then sit in my car debating whether I should even get out."

When Tasha did manage to go to work, she found that her condition affected the way she interacted with clients.

She says: "As a beauty therapist, I'm expected to look a particular way, but as things got worse my client care suffered, resulting in a few complaints about my appearance and treatment standards, which knocked my confidence even further."

Can I take time off sick for depression?

Yes.

"A mental health problem is just as serious as a physical illness," says Emma Mamo. "Mental health problems can be debilitating and even life-threatening." Emma added that bosses who prioritise their staff's mental health will find that staff take fewer sick days and stay in the job for longer.

If your depression is long term and has an adverse affect on your ability to do things in your day-to-day life, the government actually classes it as a disability under the Equality Act.

Just like any other illness, you will need to show your boss a doctor's note for an extended absence. But even if you haven't taken any time off work, it's still important to consult your GP if you are concerned about your mental health.

Getting through the day

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How can you make it through eight hours in the office when even walking to the train station or opening the group's WhatsApp conversation feels like climbing the Shard?

Unsurprisingly, Emma says that long hours and difficult working conditions can have a negative impact on our mental health. To fight the dispiriting feeling of being constantly behind, she emphasises the importance of focusing on what you've achieved in the working day.

"As much as possible do tasks one at a time, until each is finished," she suggests. "If you try to do too many at once, you're more likely to end up feeling muddled and may accomplish less."

She adds: "At the end of each day, sit back and reflect on what you've done and what you've achieved, rather than spending time worrying about what still needs to be done."

Emma also suggests making sure your lunch break is a complete distraction from work by, for example, going for a walk, even if it's just around the block.

How can I help a colleague who has depression?

Source: Newscast/Time To Change

Supporting a colleague with a mental health problem is no different to supporting a friend you're concerned about - ask them how they are and actually care about the answer.

Emma says: "You don’t necessarily have to have a conversation about mental health problems – just ask how they’re doing. That’s enough to let them know you care and that they can speak to you should they need to."

Your coworker may not want to open up immediately but if they know you're interested in how they're feeling, they may talk more openly with you when they feel able to.

Emma adds: "Lots of people worry about saying the wrong thing, and end up not saying anything at all, but this could be the worst thing to do, as your colleague might mistakenly believe that nobody cares."

Beauty therapist, Tasha, told her colleagues about her depression after around seven months in her job.

"Gradually, I became closer with the team and a few new girls we hired. I then told them about my depression and how the condition actually makes people feel," she says.

"They now ask me on a regular basis if I'm doing okay and ask me general questions they have about depression. Being able to talk about it helped me and still helps me cope. I've now been there for two and a half years and I've got my passion back for what I do."

If a colleague does confide in you, Emma Mamo emphasises the importance of not making assumptions. "Don’t try to guess what symptoms a co-worker might have and how these might affect their life or their ability to do their job," she says. "Many people are able to manage their condition and perform their role to a high standard."

Most importantly, respect the person's confidentiality – breaching your colleague's trust could negatively impact on their mental health.

What if I don’t work a 9-5 office job?

Not having the fear of your boss's 'disappointed face' or, y'know, getting fired to scare you into getting out of bed might sound blissful but lack of structure can be terrifying when you have depression.

Lifestyle blogger Charlotte Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) in January this year. Before receiving her diagnosis, the 22-year-old had experienced intense highs and lows, dropped out of two university courses and attempted suicide. Charlotte was previously been misdiagnosed with clinical depression.

"I would take on too much whilst I was on a motivated high, then wouldn't be able to complete the tasks when back on a low," she says. "I would let myself and others down, and I couldn't understand why other people were functioning so normally around me, while the littlest thing made it impossible for me to leave the bed that day."

When her symptoms worsened, Charlotte started turning down photo shoots.

Source: Things I do, think and buy...

She says: "The person I saw in the mirror was embarrassingly overweight and I'd spend weeks avoiding my emails and responsibilities, only to come bouncing back the following month with a newfound confidence, motivation and drive - and then be knocked back down again soon after.

"My work really reflected this and I felt the constant need to be apologising to people, including my audience, without letting on the struggle I was going through. I got closure with a new diagnosis in January and I can now manage it better and explain my issues, so clients are more understanding, but it is still difficult when working for yourself."

Source: Things I do, think and buy...

Charlotte found exercise a huge help in managing her condition in the context of an unstructured working day.

"I make sure I go to the gym everyday as I feel like I need some kind of guaranteed structure to my days, as often the lack of structure is what leads me to feel hopeless and unmotivated," she says. "The pressure can also be a lot more as you aren't sharing it with a team or office, so I now always make sure I can only take on as much as I can handle because pressure is usually what causes me to have an episode."

Source: Things I do, think and buy...

You can read more about Charlotte's experience here.

Sports coach Rob Ingham Clark also finds exercise helps him manage his symptoms of depression and anxiety.

He says: "Because I love my work and my job is very active, I have always forced myself to go in, even if I was anxious or feeling low, because I know that the endorphins would probably help at the end of it."

Because of his condition, Rob was unable to work for almost a year before starting his current job. The 25-year-old sought advice from his GP and benefitted from working with a therapist online.

He says: "The face-to-face therapy waiting list was a year and the over-the-phone help was six months. I was able to receive therapy over the internet in an instant messaging fashion which certainly helped, and the waiting list was only six weeks, so I chose that. It was good, but a lot of hard work."

He adds: "The stigma attached to mental health problems is significantly less than it used to be - almost everyone was extremely supportive, and sometimes it helps just knowing people you care about have your back."

What changes can I actually ask for to my job?

If your mental health condition has a "substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities" then under the Equality Act it is classed as a disability, and your employer is obliged to make certain adjustments for you.

Some changes which may be helpful to you are:

· Changes to your working area (e.g. someone with social anxiety may be given a permanent desk rather than having to hot-desk).

· Changes to your working hours (e.g. if you are taking medication that makes you very tired in the morning, you might be able to start and finish later).

· Spending time working from home.

· Being allowed to take time off work for treatment, assessment or rehabilitation.

· Temporarily re-allocating tasks you find stressful and difficult.

· Getting some mentoring or training.

Should I tell my boss about my depression?

You're under no obligation to tell your boss that you have depression but if you want to be protected by the Equality Act, then you need to disclose this. If you're concerned about this conversation, Emma Mamo suggests seeking legal advice to check what kind of support you are entitled to in your particular job.

If you think you may have depression, it's important to visit your GP to discuss your symptoms. The backing of a diagnosis from your doctor is also key when making requests for changes to your work.

Emma says: "It can be helpful to have a note from your doctor to help explain your situation. Also think about how much information you want to give. You don’t have to go into personal details, just focus on what is relevant to your job and employer."

She adds: "Also consider whom to share it with. For example, the human resources department may know your diagnosis, but they don't have to tell your supervisor or colleagues."

Where can I get more support and information?

Information on depression:

Information on bipolar disorder:

To contact Mind for information and advice on mental health:

Phone: 0300 123 3393

Text: 86463

If you're struggling with a mental health problem or know someone who is you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (ROI) - you don't have to be suicidal to call.

If you are concerned about your mental health then your GP can help. For more information on how to register with a GP and make an appointment click here.

For further information on whether your mental health problem is classified as a disability visit Mind or Gov.uk.

Feature image: iStock