In a perfect world, Americans would work to live, not live to work. However, many people are stuck in toxic or unhealthy jobs that are more harmful than helpful and can find themselves investing significant time and mental energy toward workplace conflict. A recent Society for Human Resource Management study found that over half of workers are unengaged at work, and a quarter dread going into work, don’t feel safe sharing their opinions and don’t feel respected and valued.
Dread associated with work, whether due to poor management, abusive coworkers, stressful job functions or fear about making enough to survive, can be very damaging. A toxic workplace environment can be detrimental to overall health, including both physical and mental health. And, unfortunately, this includes mental illness. Stress causes over one million American employees to miss work every day, and half of workers find that work stress affects life at home.
While workplace anxiety and depression are tragically common, they’re not inevitable or unavoidable. There are steps you can take when facing depression at work to minimize its effects on health and wellness.
Five Things to Do When a Job Is Causing Depression
It’s hard to work depressed. Job performance suffers, absenteeism increases and conflict between managers and coworkers can accelerate. However, there are ways to navigate a bad workplace. These five steps can help you alleviate depression at work.
1. Identify the Root of the Issue
Workplaces can be toxic for many different reasons. Sometimes, it’s a bad boss. Others times, job problems can be related to inefficient or abusive management, mean or aggressive coworkers or job duties that are dangerous or stressful. While all of these components can make a workplace a negative environment, there’s usually one driving force.
When facing depression at work, it’s important to know where dissatisfaction in the workplace is coming from in order to strategize solutions. For example, if a boss is the source of stress from work causing depression, it may be possible to switch to a different team or shift. If coworkers are being cruel or abusive, speaking with HR may help. In some cases, a workplace may be so toxic that there aren’t any available remedies, but when possible, taking steps toward addressing the root of the problem can make a positive difference.
2. Speak with a Counselor
Speaking with a professional is an excellent way to address depression symptoms, regardless of the cause. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious about work, a counselor can help you navigate your feelings and manage your stress.
Counselors who specialize in depression can be invaluable in tough times, like when work is creating discord in your life. However, some counselors specialize in career conflict, offering another avenue for those seeking care. A counselor with a specialization in employment issues may be able to help you clarify the source of your stress and come up with coping techniques to employ when work becomes too much to handle.
3. Take Time Off
Depression caused by work can result in increased absenteeism, as facing feelings of stress or dread about going into work can sometimes be too much to bear. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you have vacation time to use, taking a few days away from the office can help you get some distance, recalibrate your thoughts and practice healthy habits. Vacation time is a common part of compensation packages, so you should never feel guilty for taking time away.
If your job doesn’t offer adequate vacation or your boss isn’t flexible about scheduling time off, invoking the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, to take time away may be an option. Mental health concerns like depression are covered under FMLA, so if your situation escalates and you require urgent care for your symptoms, your workplace may be obligated to let you seek treatment. Further, depression is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, so your job likely can’t legally fire you for requesting accommodations — like time to enter a treatment program — to best manage your mental health.
4. Start Job Searching
If your job is causing depression and there’s no way to work around root issues, it’s time to go. Your mental health is deeply important, and a position that’s harming your well-being isn’t worth it, no matter how much you like your coworkers or the company mission.
If you feel there’s no way to improve your workplace — for example, there are no new positions to switch to or a way to escape a toxic management style — the next best step is to seek new employment. A new job gives you a chance to start over, relieve some of the pressure on your day-to-day life and hopefully find a better environment in which to work.
When seeking a new job, it’s important to acknowledge your personal needs. Many people get tied up in fantasies surrounding ideal career progression, which can be a damaging mindset. If you were happier waiting tables than working long hours behind a desk, there’s nothing wrong with pivoting toward employment that you find personally satisfying or that meets your work-life balance objectives.
5. Cultivate Healthy Habits
If you’re unable to escape the source of your work-related depression, haven’t yet found a new job or can’t take time off, your depression symptoms may be more manageable with the cultivation of healthy habits. For example, instead of going to lunch with angry coworkers, use your lunch break to take a brief outdoor walk or meditate for 15 minutes. These small gestures won’t alleviate all the challenges that come with a toxic workplace, but they can lower your blood pressure and help you better manage stressors at work.
Depression at work can be a big problem, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re suffering from clinical depression, getting help can be the only way to put your life back on the right track. Contact FHE Health today to learn more about our comprehensive mental health treatment programs, including inpatient and outpatient depression rehabilitation.