Workplace Depression: What It Is And How To Deal With It

If you feel depressed when working, you’re not alone. On this page we will look at how and why depression can impact your work life and how your job can affect your mental health and wellbeing. We’ll also outline the steps you can take if you’re finding it difficult to cope at work due to your depression, and how you can work with your employer to help you manage your depression at work:

What is workplace depression?

Work forms an important part of our lives and has lots of positive impacts on our health and wellbeing. It can give us a sense of purpose, a regular routine, the opportunity to challenge ourselves, widens our social connections and gives some financial security.

But, work can be a stressful place and this can negatively impact your mental health. If you suffer from depression, you may find it difficult to perform your regular tasks and sometimes may feel it is too difficult to go to work at all. 

In our recent Automotive Industry Survey, stress was the most common wellbeing issue for individuals who reported that stress at work is largely caused by poor work-life balance, high workloads and low levels of staff. 

If you suffer from depression and find it hard to work, you’re not alone. Across the UK, it is estimated that 4.5% of people have depression. And, being absent from work due to mental health conditions, is the third most frequent reason for an absence. 

Signs and symptoms of depression at work

There are many different symptoms of depression and there are some that can affect your ability to work. These can include struggling to concentrate, finding it difficult to make decisions or becoming irritable with colleagues, customers or suppliers. Depression at work can also make us feel worried or anxious about getting work done and feel guilty about letting other people down. This can often lead us to withdraw and isolate ourselves from friends and colleagues.

Feeling Withdrawn

A key sign of depression is withdrawal. This can either be that we don’t feel part of something or when we actively choose not to interact with others. It sometimes feels like it is easier to withdraw, especially if the thought of social interaction is overwhelming. Typical signs are taking breaks on your own, not joining in the usual casual conversations or other social activities at work.

However, isolating yourself, whether that’s withdrawing emotionally or physically from people around you, can deepen your depression and make you feel worse. In fact, it can be the exact opposite of what you really need. While it can feel scary or embarrassing to admit that you are struggling, confiding in someone you trust, like your manager or a colleague will help.

When you are feeling withdrawn, spending time with others can feel overwhelming. Rather than withdrawing or isolating yourself completely, find people you like spending time with, even if it’s only short bursts of time to start with. This can be colleagues you share breaks with or friends and family outside work. Choosing an activity to do together means that you can spend time with others without feeling like the focus is on you.

Can’t stop thinking about work

Working with depression can be difficult. It might make us worried or anxious about getting work done, making mistakes, making the right decision or letting others down.  Depression can cause us to dwell or brood on things, especially negative thoughts. So, it can be hard for us to turn off our thoughts and worries about work. 

Working from home can also have its challenges because you may feel like you never really get away from work and it can be tempting to over-work. Switching off from work is important to give your mind and body rest. Here are some tips to help you switch off:

  • Make a to do list - there’s always more to be done but to stop you worrying about it, get it out of your head and on a list. Use pen and paper, an app on your phone, it doesn’t matter. If you wake up in the night thinking about work, keep your list by your bed, add to it and go back to sleep.
  • Have a wind-down routine - get into practice of doing certain things to help you relax. It could be making your ‘to do list’ for the next day, listening to your favourite tunes on your way home from work, going for a walk, calling a friend or playing with your kids. It’s also important to relax before you go to sleep. Try reading or  listening to music and reduce the amount of screen time before sleep. This signals to your mind and body that it’s time to rest.
  • Exercise and hobbies - do something that you have to concentrate on. This could be exercising or a hobby.  Concentrating on something else limits other thoughts from creeping in and can help relax your brain and in turn your body.

Feeling excessively negative about work

We can all feel negative sometimes but when we feel negative about work all the time, this can lead to a low mood and fuel depression. However, there are things you can do to increase your feelings of positivity. 

  1. Choose who you spend time with
    Avoid negative people and spend more time with people who are positive, productive and who give you energy.
  2. Train your brain
    Look for the positives. They could be small things but acknowledging them helps you feel better and more positive.
  3. Focus on your responsibilities
    It’s easy to see or hear things in the workplace that can lead to increased negativity. Focus on what you do and don’t take on other people’s issues.
  4. Improve your work environment
    Whether that’s having photos of family or friends on your desk or in your locker, having an organised work space or revelling in clutter, feeling comfortable at work will improve your positivity.
  5. Focus
    When we juggle too many tasks at once, it can impact our productivity, leaving us to think that we aren’t getting anything done. Concentrating on one thing at a time can help us complete tasks and feel more positive.

Not wanting to go to work

You might not want to go to work if you are suffering with depression. And, sometimes staying away from work might be suggested by your mental health advisor.

There can be lots of different reasons we don’t want to go to work but it’s important to work out what these might be so that you address them. You may feel unmotivated, unappreciated or want to avoid someone you work with. Once you have identified the reason, you can make a plan to do something about it, whether that’s talking with your line manager or tackling a working relationship.

Going to work can provide a lot of different benefits to our health and wellbeing, especially our mental health. It can provide a routine, feeling like we’re part of something and gives us the opportunity to be in contact with other people.

Low energy 

Feeling like you have no energy and feeling fatigued are recognised symptoms of depression. The thing to remember is that doing nothing and being inactive won’t help and could make you feel worse. Getting up, moving and working can help you physically and mentally.

It’s also important to look after your body by what you put in it. Eating well, keeping hydrated, and reducing alcohol intake can help improve your energy. Find out more about nutrition including daily habits and food that can help you sleep better. 

Increased absenteeism & sick days

Mental health conditions, such as depression account for 12.7% of sick days taken in the UK. And if you are depressed, you may need to take time off. You will need to refer to your employer’s policies about sick days and sick pay entitlements.  At the very least, you should be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

If you are diagnosed with depression you should consider discussing this with your employer. They can then support you at work to help you work with your condition.

If your diagnosis is considered a disability, you are offered some protection under the law (Equality Act 2010). It can feel uncomfortable telling your employer but once they know they must work with you to consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you at work. It also means that are protected against any discrimination because of your disability.

Trouble sleeping

Lack of sleep affects us in lots of different ways, including feeling constantly tired, how we feel (our emotions) and our resilience. It is recommended that adults get an average of 8 hours sleep per night; some people need more and some people less. You can find out more about sleep and how to improve it here.

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Can working from home cause depression

It is unclear whether working from home can cause depression. For some, working from home is great because it can provide more flexibility, less commuting time and improve work-life balance. But, it can also have its downside. We can feel isolated from others, particularly our work colleagues if we have been used to seeing them face-to-face regularly in the past. Feeling connected to others is important for our wellbeing. Read our top tips for working from home.

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How to cope with depression at work

If you are suffering from depression, working can be difficult. It is important that your employer knows so that they can support you to work well, and limit the impact of your work on your mental health condition. It can also be useful to be open with colleagues because depression is not a visible condition. Help them understand how depression affects you and what your symptoms are. This will help them to be more understanding of your condition and how working differently could help you.

Try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Make use of all the tools that might help you; from making lists, taking regular breaks, breaking things down into smaller tasks, managing your diary and asking for help when you need it. Remember, it’s okay to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ sometimes.

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How to support a colleague who has depression

With 1 in 4 people having a mental health issue each year, it is likely that you will be working with someone who has depression at some point. It is useful to be aware of the symptoms of depression.

One of the best ways to support a colleague with depression is to talk to them! Sometimes, when we don’t know what to say, we don’t say anything at all. That can leave people feeling lonely and isolated. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions and don’t judge - just listen. Check in with them from time to time to see how they are doing and let them know that it’s okay to ask for help if they need it. This could be help with work, a listening ear or being around someone positive when they are feeling low.

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We’re here for you

If you want someone to talk to about your mental health, talk to us. We’re here to help. You can call us on 08081 311 333 or chat with us online.

We are here for anyone who works, or has worked in UK Automotive, and their family dependants. Even if you’re not sure if or how Ben can support you, please get in touch. Our friendly helpline team will be able to chat through your options and support you in a way that works best for you.

You can also use SilverCloud which is a digital platform with programs to help you manage and improve your health & wellbeing. It’s completely free and includes programs to help with depression, anxiety, sleep and more.

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