Depression at Work: How to Stay Healthy

If you feel depressed when working, you’re not alone. Sadness, anxiety, loss of motivation, difficulty concentrating, unexplained bouts of crying, and boredom are just a small sampling of the things you may be feeling if you’re experiencing depressive symptoms at work.

Depression has a profound effect on all of us 17 millionTrusted Source American adults each year.

The data comes from State of Mental Health in America 2021 survey shows that the number of people seeking help for depression increased significantly from 2019 to 2020.

There was a 62 percent increase in people who took the survey’s depression screen — and of those people, 8 in 10 tested positive for symptoms of moderate to severe depression.

The average full-time employee spends 8.5 hours per week on weekdays, and 5.5 hours on weekends and holidays. Bureau of Labor StatisticsMany of these people will feel depression on the job, so it is not surprising.

Continue reading to learn more about depressive symptoms at work, how to recognize them, where you can get help, and what to do to feel better.

What is work depression?

While a job may not cause depression, the environment may worsen symptoms for people who already live with depression.

“Any workplace or job can be a potential cause or a contributing factor for depression depending on the level of stress and available support at the workplace,” said Rashmi Parmar, MD, a psychiatrist at Community Psychiatry.

The following is an extract from the World Health Organization Trusted Source (WHO), a negative working environment can lead to:

  • Concerns about mental and physical well-being
  • absenteeism
  • Lost productivity
  • Increased substance use

Mental Health America reports that depression ranks among the top three problems in the workplace for employee assistance professionals.

Parmar believes that early detection and awareness are crucial for any health condition.

“Depression is a complex condition with a varied manifestation of thoughts, feelings, and behavior that can affect anyone and everyone, and a variety of work and non-work-related factors might be at play when we consider someone struggling with workplace depression,” she explained.

What are the signs of depression at work?

Signs of depression at work are similar to general depressive symptoms. However, some people may feel more at home in a work environment.

Parmar stated that this depression can affect your ability to function at work and at home.

These are some of the most common signs of depression at work:

  • increased anxiety levels, especially when managing stressful situations or thinking about work when you’re away from your job
  • Feelings of boredom and complacency about the job
  • Low energy and lack motivation can lead to boredom when doing mundane tasks.
  • persistent or prolonged feelings of sadness or low mood.
  • Loss of interest in work tasks, particularly those you once found fulfilling and interesting
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and overwhelming guilt
  • Inability to focus or pay attention to work tasks, and difficulty remembering or retaining information, especially new information.
  • Excessive errors in daily work tasks
  • an increase or decrease in weight or appetite
  • Headaches, fatigue, and upset stomach are all common symptoms.
  • Increased absences, late or early departures
  • impaired decision-making capacity
  • Increased anger and irritability.
  • crying spells or tearfulness at work, with or without any apparent triggers
  • Trouble sleeping, or too much sleep (like taking naps during regular working hours).
  • self-medication with alcohol or substances

If you’re good at masking or internalizing them, these signs of work depression might not be visible to your co-workers. However, there are certain symptoms that they might be more likely notice.

Parmar says these are the signs of depression at work.

  • Refrain from contact with other people
  • A lack of self-hygiene, or significant changes in appearance are signs of poor hygiene
  • Late arrival, missing meetings, or days absent from work
  • Procrastination, missing deadlines, reduced productivity and subpar performance in tasks.
  • Manifesting indifference, forgetfulness and disinterest in the world
  • A feeling of fatigue that lasts for most of the day or part of it (may include afternoon naps at work).
  • irritability or anger, feeling overwhelmed or becoming emotional during conversations (may begin crying suddenly or get teary over trivial matters).
  • Do not have confidence when attempting to complete tasks

What could be causing you to feel depressed at work?

There are many reasons that you might be experiencing more depressive symptoms at your workplace. And while no two people — or experiences — are the same, some common themes seem to emerge when pinpointing the causes or triggers of signs of depression at work.

These situations, while not exhaustive, may be contributing to work depression.

  • Feeling like you don’t have control over your work problems
  • Feeling like your job is at risk
  • Work in toxic environments
  • Being underpaid or overworked
  • Workplace harassment and discrimination
  • Working irregular hours
  • Finding balance between work/home is difficult
  • working in a setting that doesn’t match your personal values
  • doing work that doesn’t further your career goals
  • Working conditions that are unsafe or poor

Work stress vs. depression

It’s not uncommon to experience stress at work, but don’t ignore feelings of depression. It’s important to know the difference.

Work stress

  • Stress that is less intense when the stressor passes
  • Sometimes, you may feel anxious or irritable.
  • Headaches or muscle tension

Work depression

  • Crying and sadness feelings increase
  • Persistent feelings of anxiety
  • Concentration and focus problems have increased
  • Feeling bored or unfulfilled in your job

Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry, said she works with many clients who are adversely affected by engaging in work they aren’t passionate about.

“Individuals can mindlessly complete tasks throughout the day and begin to feel disconnected and demoralized, which can exacerbate anxiety and depressive symptoms,” she explained.

Magavi suggests that this could make it difficult for others to eat or drink throughout the day.

Is it more common to feel depressed when you work remotely?

Remote working can be convenient but it also has its challenges. Parmar says that the line between professional and personal life can easily blur, leading to major disruptions in your daily life.

It’s not easy to set up and follow a home routine.

“Without a routine, boredom can slowly creep in, giving way to depressive feelings and thoughts,” she said.

Parmar said that people working from home often feel isolated and lonely without the support system at work.

“We’re forced to rely on chats or messages, phone calls, and video calls to connect with our friends and colleagues, which adds to our already increased screen time,” she said.

Remote work during COVID-19. Tips for improving mental health

If working from home is your new “normal,” at least for now, you might be experiencing increased feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with those feelings.

  • Take a break from the house and go for a walk.
  • Your workspace should be kept separate from the rest of your house.
  • Eliminate clutter from around your desk.
  • You can practice mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes each morning, noon, and night before calling it a day.
  • Contact a friend who is not employed.
  • Take your eyes off the screen all day.

Parmar added that many people may be working longer hours than usual because it can be difficult to keep track of the time at home.

“It is very natural to get overwhelmed from all these factors and feel depressed or anxious,” she explained.

Magavi said that prolonged remote work can cause financial, emotional, and physical problems for people.

“Low-income families are significantly disadvantaged due to limited resources or access to stable Wi-Fi, while other families, regardless of income, may be increasingly exposed to domestic violence due to displaced anger caused by the pandemic and associated stressors,” she said.

“Individuals may feel like there is nothing to look forward to, or they may struggle, as they no longer have an outlet to normalize their feelings of burnout with fellow employees,” she added.

What can be done if you feel depressed at work?

It doesn’t matter where you work managing your symptoms at work can prove difficult. The good news is there are things you can do when you’re feeling depressed:

  • Take a 10 minute break from your desk.
  • Take a lunch break, and then go outdoors.
  • Go for a quick walk during a break — even if it’s indoors, exercise does wonders for mental health.
  • Make a day of mental health.
  • Practice a few minutes of mindfulness meditation.
  • Incorporate deep breathing exercises into your day.
  • You can say no to one small thing that helps you feel less stressed throughout the day.
  • Check out this hilarious video.

What are the most common risk factors for working-related depression?

Magavi identifies the following risk factors that can lead to depression at work:

  • Managers who are not performing well
  • Unbalanced effort-reward
  • Politics at work
  • Workplace gossip
  • Workplace bullying
  • High job demand
  • Low decision latitude
  • Limited social support at work

Parmar also mentioned other risk factors, such as:

  • unfair expectations
  • excessive workload
  • Work roles that are unclear or poorly managed

She also mentioned that poor job match can lead to increased emotional and physical distress.

Additional risk factors include long, unscheduled shifts of 10 to 12, or more, and shifts at odd hours that disrupt routines or sleep patterns.

A 2019 review Trusted Source found that shift workers, especially females, were at an increased risk for poor mental health — specifically symptoms of depression.

What is the best way to treat depression at work?

If you’re noticing a link between depressive symptoms and your workplace, don’t wait to seek help. Talking with your immediate supervisor or boss is a good first step — as long as you feel supported by them.

Sometimes, a change of assignment or office location can reduce symptoms.

You can also ask the human resources department if your company has an employee assistance program. This is a work-based program that offers mental health–related services for personal and work concerns.

A combination of medication and psychotherapy is often recommended to treat depression outside of work. Professionals are available online and in-person.

“It’s important to create a culture of spreading awareness and reducing the stigma associated with mental health disorders at the workplace, so affected individuals are encouraged to seek help freely without any prejudice when needed,” she explained.

Actually, 2014 study Trusted Source found that universally delivered workplace mental health interventions — and more specifically, cognitive-behavioral health-based programs — can reduce the level of depression symptoms among workers.

Managers, supervisors, employees, and others can learn to have these conversations with those who are in need and help them find the right care.

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