Managing depression at work is much more than beating the Monday blues

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Managing disability can make adjusting to a new job incredibly difficult.  While most work places adequately accommodate physical disabilities, mental disabilities are much less obvious and more difficult to manage. 

Depression is a very acute and common mental disorder that affects one in 14 Canadians in some way during their life, with many studies describing the age group of 19-24 as being the most at risk.

Although not everyone will suffer depression, the odds are quite high that you will at work alongside someone else experiencing it, and you probably won’t even notice.

Kristy and Kathryn, whose last names have been withheld to protect their privacy at work, have found themselves trying to adjust to working while suffering from major depression and bipolar disorder.

Managing depression at work

Kristy, 21, works in customer service and has mostly kept her depression to herself.  “I do not think that most jobs would understand the severity of mental illness or see it as a legit reason.”

Kathryn, 25, has had a similar experience in her career as a pastry chef.  During acute periods of depression while suffering from bipolar disorder, which has led her to taking extended periods of time off and can make holding on to a job difficult,  “I’d often end up quitting after taking extended leaves because I was too embarrassed or didn’t feel like facing the questions from co-workers about where I’d been for so long.”

The insecurity surrounding depression makes it incredibly difficult to communicate issues with co-workers.  Rather than explain her situation, Kristy describes her bouts with depression while working as even more strenuous on her mental health. “The times when I could bring myself to go to work, I put on a happy face and tried to cover my illness and feelings, which was extremely exhausting.”

Approaching your employer

Kathryn says she often found her bosses to be sympathetic to her situation, but even then it was difficult for her to not feel some shame for her absences.  “I didn’t want to make it common knowledge. I wouldn’t tell [my co-workers], so making up excuses or trying to avoid the questions altogether was the basic process after having time away from work,” she says.

Although attitudes toward mental health have improved drastically over the years, sometimes the most difficult part of overcoming those attitudes is altering your own.  Even people who suffer from depression may hold the misconception that it isn’t a ‘real’ illness or that it can be quickly and easily corrected with medication.  The truth surrounding depression is that it is incredibly debilitating and persists throughout a person’s life.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the unemployment rate for those with a mental illness can be as high as 70-90%.  The CMHA has a program designed to help anyone suffering from a mental disorder to find a route to meaningful employment through support networks, employment strategies and by breaking down stigmas associated with mental illness.

Depression is a severe mental disorder, and if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from the medical condition, it is absolutely crucial to try to get help.  Similarly, you also need to understand that even though there may be no obvious symptoms, depression is a legitimate disability with very real effects.

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About the author

José Gonzalez is currently studying English and psychology at the University of Toronto. He's tried his hand at a wide variety of jobs, from pizza maker to autism therapist, but so far he hasn't figured out his exact niche. He figures as long as he's making a positive difference in someone's life, whichever path he goes down is a good one.