Depression and Work

Depression and Work: What to Know

Suffering from depression in the workplace is a very common occurrence. In a survey of a panel of United States workers and managers, it was found that nearly a quarter of those surveyed had received a diagnosis of depression at some stage of their life, and 40% of those had to take time off from their work as a result of the diagnosis. If you are experiencing depression while having to try to navigate all the responsibilities of work, know that you are not alone and that there is help available to you.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder and is not as simple as having “the blues” for a bit. It is a feeling of sadness or loss that is persistent and rarely goes away on its own. It can lead to a slew of emotional and physical problems. When you are depressed, you may find it difficult or impossible to engage in normal day-to-day activities. You may find that the way you typically think, behave, and feel is severely compromised. Depression is also known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder.

Being depressed does not make you weak. If you suffer from depression, it is important to seek help before it gets worse. If untreated, depression can lead to substance use and/or thoughts of ending one’s life. Even if it does get to this point, know that there are options available to you so that you can get your life back on track.

Depression and Being Productive

Depression can be counteractive to trying to be productive in the workplace. The symptoms of depression can be debilitating and can make even the smallest tasks at work feel insurmountable. Workplace depression can minimize your productivity in various ways:

  • Your ability to communicate well with others may suffer.
  • There may be a drop in your ability to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions.
  • Fatigue may inhibit you from accomplishing tasks in a timely fashion.
  • You may notice a lack of initiative or motivation.
  • You may find that you procrastinate more often.
  • Being absent may disrupt your productivity.
  • Not being able to concentrate can affect your workflow.

Signs of Depression at Work

  • Fatigue – Regular fatigue can be a symptom of depression. If you feel like you are tired all the time at work and rarely have the energy to get your job done, this could be a sign that you are depressed.
  • Missing Deadlines and Goals – If you are consistently not meeting personal workplace goals or even career goals, that could be a red flag. Avoiding phone calls, skipping out on meetings, and being unable to complete tasks can all be possible signs of depression in the workplace.
  • Brain Fog – If it constantly feels like you’re in a fog or daze while you are at work and cannot seem to concentrate, this could be a sign of workplace depression.
  • Not Showing up to Work – If you are regularly finding reasons to skip work or call in for a sick day, it may be depression.

Feeling Down Only When You Are at Work

If you are overcome with negative feelings only while you are at work, it is possible that your job is responsible for your depression. Workplace issues such as bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse can all contribute to feelings of depression about your work. While possibly not as severe as the workplace issues just mentioned, these other difficulties in the workplace can all contribute to depression:

  • Having to navigate poor or unsafe working conditions
  • Doing work that does not align with or further your goals
  • Having to work in a setting that does not line up with your values
  • A lack of balance between home and work
  • Excessive or irregular hours
  • Being underpaid for the work you do
  • The feeling that your job is regularly in jeopardy
  • Not feeling like you have control over issues at work

Depression and Substance Use

Depression in the workplace can often lead to substance use disorder. In fact, in a sampling study, it was found that 55% of those in the workplace that were studied and were between the ages of 18-34 suffered from substance use disorder. If you are dealing with workplace depression and substance use disorder, it is imperative that you are getting help with both. If left unchecked, substance use disorder can result in overdose or even death.

Do not try to manage your substance use disorder completely on your own. If you try this, you may find the withdrawal symptoms too difficult to manage. Finding a medical professional or a facility that can guide you through the detoxification process can be a major help in coping with and minimizing the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. Professional medical help can also help you strategize and navigate any planning you may have to do around your workplace while receiving treatment.

Strategies for Managing Workplace Depression

If you have to contend with depression in the workplace, there are some strategies you can employ that may offer some relief. While none of these is a cure-all, they may offer some respite while you are working towards a more permanent solution to the issues that are contributing to your workplace depression.


The first step toward dealing with the problem is to acknowledge that there is one. Be able to tell yourself that you are, indeed, depressed. Make peace with how you are feeling and know that you are going to do something about it. Determine if it is your workplace that’s causing your depression. If so, now is the time to take steps to address and manage it.

Get Assistance

Depression is unlikely to fix itself. Finding a professional who can understand your situation and who you feel safe confiding in is an important part of managing workplace depression. There may even be resources available through your workplace or workplace’s insurance policy. Of course, you may have reasons for feeling uncomfortable about going through your work. If that’s the case, you should locate outside help.

Make Time Outside of Work

Set up time for yourself so that you are able to separate yourself from your work activities. Having something to look forward to can be a major boost while dealing with depression at work. When you take time away from work, do as little as possible that reminds you of the workplace, within reason.

Take Breaks

Taking even short breaks away from work, when possible, can help alleviate feelings of depression at work. Walking, stretching, or having lunch outside can all contribute to changing your outlook on your workday.


Adding activities into your routine that can help lift your mood can help counter your feelings of depression at work. Yoga, meditation, and breath work can help. Regular exercise is generally a good option for not only your mental health but also your physical health. The endorphins released into your body from exercise are a great and natural way to combat workplace depression. Other activities that may help include hiking, gardening, or even taking on a new hobby. Getting outside and into the sunshine can also be a mood lifter as it releases serotonin into the brain.

Depression Treatment Options

Treating workplace depression most often requires medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. In some cases, a client might be unresponsive or minimally responsive to these two treatment options. In those instances, rarer options such as brain stimulation therapy might be recommended.


The most common type of medication to be prescribed to offset workplace depression is antidepressants. These take some time to work before the benefits take effect. A typical amount of time before antidepressants kick in is four to eight weeks. There are side effects that may occur, and it is important to go over these with your doctor. If you begin to notice uncomfortable side effects, consult with your medical professional before stopping antidepressants on your own.

Don’t attempt to self-medicate with prescriptions that have not been specifically prescribed for you. This can be harmful and dangerous to your health. Beyond that, without a medical professional monitoring and guiding you through the process, it may be hard to determine if that prescription is best for your particular needs.


There are two main types of psychotherapy that are used to treat workplace depression. These are CBT and IPT. CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy and IPT stands for interpersonal therapy.

Brain Stimulation Therapy

Brain stimulation therapy is sometimes employed when a client has been unresponsive to the two treatment options listed above. Types of CBT and brain stimulation therapy include repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy.

It Does Not Have to Stay This Way

If you are depressed at work, just remember that it does not have to stay this way. There are options available that can improve your situation. Do not be afraid to admit there is a problem and to seek out help. These could be the first steps toward a better tomorrow for you.


Medically Reviewed By:

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

Our Mission

Our goal is to provide resources for people struggling with depression. We know how hard it is to find reliable, and free resources to help yourself or a loved one. This website does just that. If you want to talk, getting help for depression is only a phone call away. Our free hotline is available 24/7.

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