Everyone gets sad from time to time, but major depressive disorder is a serious mental illness with massive consequences for those affected. The symptoms of depression can be crippling, and the statistics back it up: the World Health Organization lists depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide.
If you’re having trouble working during a depressive episode, don’t beat yourself up over it. This is not something you can “snap out” of with willpower. Mental health issues can be just as detrimental to your ability to work as physical health conditions. Thankfully, there are options available to get you back on your feet and confident at work.
Why Does Depression Cause Disability?
Many people think the symptoms of depression are based largely with mood: lack of pleasure, negative outlook, and low self-esteem, for instance. This can be the case for someone with mild depression, which often responds quite well to talk therapy.
Severe depression is a different situation. It can cripple your energy levels, your ability to focus, your appetite to fuel your body, and your sleep patterns. There are profound biological changes that happen within you, including changes in hormone levels, sleep cycles, and brain structure. When this happens, it can be impossible to get out of bed, much less have a productive eight-hour workday.
What Can You Do for Depression at Work?
First, don’t beat yourself up. This is not a character flaw or weakness. It is a medical issue that requires treatment.
If this isn’t your first go-round with depression and anxiety, you may have some tools at your disposal for positive mental health and well-being. Maybe you’re on antidepressants; keep taking them, or speak with your doctor about adjusting your dosage. Ask your therapist to coach you through your bad periods while working; they may be able to meet with you during your lunch break or over email.
Take short breaks with a meditation app when you need them. Get outside for a walk in fresh air. Go to the gym on your lunch breaks. Pack a nutrition-filled lunch and healthy protein snacks to keep your energy up during the day. When you get home, maintain good sleep hygiene to keep you rested and more prepared to head into work each day.
If you don’t have a team of mental health professionals, put one together ASAP. Use the back of your health insurance card to find a therapist and/or psychiatrist in your area. Before signing on with one, Google them to ensure other patients had good experiences.
Your team can help provide guidance and advice as you see how much you can push yourself at work.
Too Depressed to Work? Re-Group and Recover
You may get to a point where your deep depression is bad enough that your mental health professionals advise you to take some time off work while treatment is adjusted. If it’s taking tremendous amounts of effort to get through the day and your work is suffering, it’s probably time to consider this. If hiding your symptoms is proving difficult and coworkers are noticing a change in behavior, it’s appropriate to regroup. This might not mean you stop working altogether. You could work from home or take a week off while your medication is increased. In other situations, it may take longer to start or switch medications.
In the U.S., many employees qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees your job will be protected for 12 (unpaid) weeks if you are absent for a medical reason. Being unpaid for a period of time can be a significant financial burden, but if your work is suffering to the degree that you can’t perform your responsibilities, it’s a better option to take the time to get well than to lose your job. Also remember that mental illness is as real as any physical illness, and your health should be a priority.
If an FMLA leave is needed, be sure to talk to your HR department. Remember that they hired you for a reason and value your contributions to the company. It’s their job to help employees when health issues pop up, and the Americans with Disabilities Act has laws in place to protect people with mental illness. The only information they need for FMLA is a certification from your doctor. Any additional details are kept confidential and cannot be legally disclosed to your manager or coworkers.
In any scenario, stay in touch with your psychiatrist to monitor any changes to your medications. This will ensure the best possible response to your treatment and help you get back to work feeling better.
Again, it’s important to note that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Even with treatment, it’s possible that your symptoms are bad enough to make it difficult to work a 40-hour workweek. If this is your situation, you have options. You could talk yo your boss about working from home to avoid some triggers. You could provide your skills on a freelance basis through a resource like Upwork. You could enter the service industry by driving for Uber or Lyft or doing something else that’s not 9 to 5.
Disability benefits are also an option. Some states offer this on a temporary basis. On a federal level, the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs will provide your retirement benefits early (including Medicare), though approvals can be difficult. Even with full documentation, this process can take years, so you may want to hire a lawyer who specializes in disability law. Many of these lawyers only take fees once your benefits have been approved.
Find Hope in New Treatment Options
If you’re on antidepressant medication and symptoms are still bad enough to make working difficult, you shouldn’t give up on feeling better. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a depression treatment that has shown great results, particularly in patients with treatment-resistant depression.
It works by reactivating parts of the brain that become dormant from depression. It’s highly effective and doesn’t come with the side effects associated with antidepressants. A typical TMS treatment takes 18 to 19 minutes, and you can drive afterwards, meaning you could do it during your lunch break at work.
If you’d like to try TMS, Success TMS is a national provider with locations across the country. You can learn more at SuccessTMS.com, or give them a call at 855-943-3232 to check your insurance coverage and get started.
Many people get their identities and value from their work. Depression brings feelings of guilt on its own. Coupled with the inability to work, it can foster shame. But you are valuable beyond what you do for work, and your depression doesn’t have to last forever.
Remember that you’re not alone. Dark thoughts can be especially heavy during this time, so reach out to family and friends for support. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a website and can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255, should you need it. It can be hard to work when you have depression, so give yourself credit for getting the right treatment and following through. You’ll be able to get back to work stronger and more resilient.