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Depression and the Workplace

Each year, more than 340,000 people in Tennessee report experiencing symptoms of depression. Their feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness affect almost every aspect of their lives – sometimes even at work.

Mental Health America reports that depression is one of the top three workplace concerns that employee assistance programs address. It’s a real problem you need to be aware of if you think you or a loved one might be at risk for depression.

It’s okay to acknowledge symptoms of depression

It’s normal for some people to not even realize they’re depressed. They chalk up their feelings to something else, like being tired, stressed out, or even fighting off a cold or other illness. Other people might ignore warning signs because they’re nervous or scared to think about what those symptoms might signify.

It’s also common for people to try to compartmentalize their feelings, says Dr. Jill Amos, behavioral health psychologist with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

“People like to think of things in their lives as being separate,” says Dr. Amos. “They may be having problems at home, but they don’t think that could be affecting their ability to function at work.”

So, they come to work and try to just soldier on. But they may not realize how  depression is affecting their lives, including how they work.

Get to know what these symptoms look like

If you’re not familiar with the symptoms of depression, it might be hard to recognize any of them in yourself (or in a colleague). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common symptoms include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities or hobbies
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping

If you think you may be affected, consider taking an online screening for depression or anxiety.(Some people experience symptoms of both depression and anxiety at the same time.)

Realize how depression could affect your job

Sleep disturbances are a common symptom. If depression limits your ability to get a good night’s sleep, you might find yourself oversleeping and being late to work. Or you might feel drowsy and sluggish because you didn’t get enough good-quality sleep.

“If you’re not able to stay awake and alert during the day, that can  impact your job performance,” says Dr. Amos.

You may be unable to focus on tasks on the job. You could have trouble completing a task on time. And depression can also dampen your mood, which affects your interactions with other people.

“You may be shorter and snappier with people around you,” says Dr. Amos. “If you’re working on a team, you may not be working as effectively with others on that team, and that can affect your productivity.”

And if you’ve kept your struggles to yourself, it’s possible that others might not realize that you’re experiencing depression.

“They might think you’re just not performing well,” Dr. Amos says.

You might notice that a coworker seems to be acting differently. Maybe they’re missing deadlines, coming into work later and later, or showing other signs of being sad or listless. If you feel comfortable, you could try gently approaching your coworker to ask if everything is okay. They could be experiencing depression, which they may or may not even recognize. It’s a delicate balance to try to help without offending a someone you work with. These tips might help.

Reach out for help

Gaining insight into your feelings could help you find a better path forward. You can seek treatment that’s right for you and your particular situation. You may need medication, or you may need therapy, or like many people, you may benefit from both.

“You can certainly start by reaching out to your doctor or to a counselor for help. But if you’re not quite ready to take that step, you can reach out to a trusted friend or coworker, if that’s where you feel most comfortable starting,” says Dr. Amos. “Some people might also want to speak to their pastor or other religious leader.”

If you are in crisis or just need some immediate help, you can call any of these phone numbers:

  • National Suicide Prevention Line: 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Tennessee Statewide Crisis Phone Line: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471)
  • Tennessee State Employment Assistance Program: 855-437-3486

For non-emergency situations, BlueCross members have access to resources that can help identify the best path forward, including finding a medical professional to help.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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