Working with depression: strategies that may help

1 in 7 people in Australia will experience depression in their lifetime.

If you're finding it hard to cope, you don't have to do it on your own. Having the right support in place can help you feel more confident about managing symptoms and navigating the challenges at work.

In this guide to getting through work with depression, we answer questions like:

  • Can people with depression work?
  • What are some ways to cope with depression at work?
  • What supports are available?

What is depression?

We all feel low sometimes, but for people with major depressive disorder, low feelings can last a long time, sometimes without a clear reason.

In addition to low mood, people with major depression often experience physical symptoms like low energy levels, headaches, muscle pain, sleep loss and digestive problems.

Negative, intrusive thoughts like 'I'm no good,' 'it's my fault,' and 'people are better off without me' are also common symptoms of depression.

How does depression affect a person's work life?

Depression can affect all parts of a person's life, including their work performance and motivation.

Ways depression can affect someone's work life include:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor sleep and tiredness
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness about your job
  • Irritability and frustration

Working in a toxic environment where you feel helpless, overworked or unsafe can contribute to work depression.

Can you work with depression?

Many experts say that working in a supportive environment can actually be beneficial for people with depression and be part of their recovery. It can give you a sense of purpose and connect with others in a meaningful way.

If you are living with depression and finding it hard to cope at work or find a job, support is available.

Living with depression and anxiety made it challenging for Dan to keep up with his work life. He lost his confidence and found it hard to picture a positive future.

With support from APM, Dan was able to rebuild his confidence, manage his mental health issues and find work in a supportive environment.

Read more about Dan's story.

Getting through work with depression

If you're experiencing depression symptoms, it's important to get help. Moderate and severe depression should be treated by a mental health professional.

Depending on your situation and unique needs, a professional may recommend lifestyle changes, changes in your workplace, psychotherapy, medication or a combination of treatments.

There are also a number of things you can do in your daily routine to help manage symptoms. Here are some tips for coping with depression at work:

Set clear goals

Severe depression can make it hard to get out of bed, let alone perform at work. Try setting small, achievable goals for yourself each day. Knowing what the next small step is can help make your workload seem less overwhelming.

Meeting your goals can give you a sense of accomplishment and build up your self esteem overtime. Just make sure your goals are easy to achieve and measurable, like 'reply to one email today' or 'write the introduction to my report today'.

Stay active

Physical activity can have a positive effect on your mental well being. Moving creates better blood flow to the brain and releases hormones that make us feel good.

In addition to your regular exercise routine, find ways to stay active in the workplace such as:

  • Find reasons to get up from your desk throughout the day – photocopying, going to the toilet, getting a drink
  • Use a standing desk or an exercise ball for a chair
  • Ask a colleague to go for a walk during lunch break

Take a break

Working with major depressive disorder can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It's important to have breaks throughout the day where you can switch off from work.

If you're working from home, try to separate your work space from your living space. Keeping your work things out of sight can help give your mind a break.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness exercises help you focus on what you're feeling and thinking in the present moment without judging it. Many therapists recommend mindfulness for people with depression, anxiety, mood disorders and other mental health conditions.

A simple mindfulness exercise is to find a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on your breath. If your mind starts to wander, acknowledge your thoughts and gently bring your focus back to your breath.

Stay connected

Connecting meaningfully with others is a crucial part of mental well being. It can be hard to form new friendships and develop older relationships when you're living with depression, but loneliness can make symptoms worse.

Research suggests it's not about how many connections you have, but how you feel about the ones that you do.

Here are some simple ways to stay connected at work:

  • Ask a colleague to lunch
  • Do something nice for someone else
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Ask questions, be curious
  • Give a compliment

Ask for help

Feeling helpless at work or overwhelmed by your workload can make symptoms worse. It's important to ask for help, whether that's speaking to a mental health professional outside of work or discussing workplace changes with your supervisor.

Workplace accommodations for depression

Workplace accommodations are changes in your job role, work schedule or workplace that help you do your job well. Your employer may be willing to make some changes so that you can better manage work depression.

Accommodations are unique to each person. Some examples include:

  • Organisers and schedulers
  • Ergonomic equipment
  • Scheduled breaks to help with energy levels
  • Private office
  • Flexible schedule
  • Time off for mental health appointments
  • Work from home
  • Part time work

If you feel uncomfortable asking your employer for accommodations, you may be eligible for support from APM. We help people like you communicate with your employer and find workplace solutions that benefit everyone.

Living with depression while looking for work

If you're struggling to get through work with depression or having trouble finding a job where you feel supported, you could be eligible for Disability Employment Services.

When you register with APM, we can help you with everything from finding suitable job opportunities and preparing for interviews to accessing mental health services and workplace accommodations to help you feel confident in the workplace.

Call us on 1800 276 276 or register today to get started.