If you’re one of the more than 16 million Americans who live with depression, you might find it hard to even just get to work sometimes. When you do make it, you may experience the types of behavioral and psychological symptoms of depression that make it difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to do your job. 

The truth is, depression can significantly affect not just your ability to function but your overall job performance, too. The good news, however, is that depression is highly treatable for most people.

Let’s take a closer look at what depression at work looks like, its signs and symptoms, and some possible causes of depression. We’ll also discuss the steps you can take to alleviate symptoms, improve work performance, and feel good at your job — and in your life — once again.

What is Work Depression?

For many people, feeling depressed at work has little to do with their actual job. It’s much more likely that a job environment is simply exacerbating depression symptoms that might already exist. 

We now understand that working can be a contributing factor to anxiety and depression. Additionally, some workplaces and conditions can be more stressful than others and, thus, more likely to contribute to work depression.

According to research done by the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center, physical environment can be the ultimate culprit for:

  • Higher absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity in a worker
  • Increased likelihood of employee substance use
  • Increased risk for employees developing physical or mental health conditions (like depression)

It’s important to be aware of our mental space in all aspects of our lives, and this includes our workplace. 

Looking for signs of depression is important because early detection is key. If you notice that you’re feeling depressed at work, taking quick, effective, proactive steps can improve your situation and speed up your timeline for recovery.

Before we talk about potential ways you can manage it, let’s do a quick review of the signs and symptoms of depression at work. This way, you’ll know what to look for.

Signs and Symptoms of Work Depression

Depression at work isn’t just something we should care about individually. Research tells us it can actually be financially devastating in the workplace. In fact, it’s estimated that productivity loss due to depression costs roughly between $36 and $51 billion a year in the United States. Those in the workplace who are depressed tend to show more: 

  • Job loss
  • Premature retirement
  • On-the-job functional limitations
  • Absences, compared with nondepressed coworkers

Work takes up a big chunk of our life,and for some people, depression and work go hand in hand. There are various emotional patterns and behaviors that can indicate work depression. Some of the most common things exhibited by people living with depression can include:

  • Arriving late for work (if you go at all)
  • Experiencing constant anxiety about having to go to work
  • Stressing out about work, even when you’re away from your job
  • Feeling very bored or having a general sense of complacency at work
  • Finding it difficult to be motivated to perform your job

Other symptoms of work depression are very similar to those of common depression. They might include feelings of irritability, anxiousness, nervousness, sadness, helplessness, worthlessness, disinterest, and guilt.

It’s not uncommon for people who feel depressed at work to become skilled at masking or internalizing their symptoms. This can make it challenging to see if there’s a problem. If you’re concerned about a friend or coworker who might be exhibiting signs of depression at work, or if you’re wondering if you’re depressed, look for things like:  

  • Physical symptoms such as headache, upset stomach, and fatigue
  • Sudden changes in work habits or work quality
  • Increased or decreased appetite and weight
  • Excessive frustration, anger, or irritability
  • Poor decision-making  
  • Tearfulness or crying spells
  • Changes in self-hygiene or appearance
  • Lacking confidence while performing work tasks
  • Forgetfulness, disinterest, detachment, or indifference
  • Out-of-character isolation or withdrawal from coworkers
  • Missed meetings, late arrivals, early departures, or increased absences
  • Missing deadlines, procrastinating, or productivity loss
  • Displaying anger, irritability, or other unprofessional emotional patterns

Work depression might also cause changes in sleeping habits, like trouble falling or staying asleep. Sleep problems may become so prevalent that someone who’s depressed at work might even be tempted to take naps during the day if they can get away with it. 

Finally, work depression can result in alcohol or other substance use or abuse in an attempt to self-medicate or numb feelings.

Why You Might Be Depressed at Work

There are many reasons why you might be feeling depression at work. They can include things like:

  • Having coworkers with differing personal philosophies
  • Feeling like your input doesn’t matter concerning work issues or risk
  • Fear of being fired (whether founded or not)
  • Having to work in a toxic environment
  • Being underpaid and/or overworked
  • Having poor work-life balance
  • Being discriminated against
  • Being harassed
  • Witnessing nepotism
  • Feeling unvalidated or under-appreciated

You may also develop work depression if you believe your work doesn’t fundamentally contribute to society or that your role isn’t bringing you closer to your career goals.

Is it stress or depression?

It’s important to note that normal job stress doesn’t necessarily decrease performance or cause depression in a worker. While job stress might cause you to be a little more irritable, most often, you’ll be able to quickly bounce back and perform with renewed vigor.

Work depression, on the other hand, might make you feel sad beyond 1 or 2 days. You may be feeling symptoms for weeks or even months. You might begin crying or have feelings of anxiety that just won’t go away. You also can find yourself unable to concentrate on your job or starting to feel so bored and unfulfilled that you just want to quit.

“Persistent stress at work can certainly feel depressing, especially when it begins to impact self-worth, dignity, and value. Toxic colleagues and staff can leave us questioning career paths in an otherwise normalized environment. When we change our lens and identify with lack of purpose, it might be the right time to tap into our reserves of courage in order to make a necessary change.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Remote Work and Its Impact on Depression

Since COVID, many companies have developed remote workforces. Though at first glance, it might seem like a huge bonus and wildly attractive to “get” to stay at home and work, this isn’t always the case. 

For some people, working from home (WFH) has proven both challenging and stressful. Having the freedom to choose your own hours can lead to increased and consistent procrastination, sometimes to the point that you’re failing to meet deadlines. Working from home can also make it hard for people who live with or are dating someone with depression to help their significant other.

On the flip side, when it’s so easy to just pop into the home office, it can become difficult to separate work and home life. Leaving an office is a clear sign to our brain that the workday is over. Having our entire office set up just a room away from where we unwind or relax after the workday can make it tempting to put in longer hours, where it becomes a struggle to “shut it off” at night or on the weekends. 

Remote work, like in-house work, requires a well-structured framework and routine. Many people are finding they miss the structure and comradery of a multi-person, teamwork-based environment. Working alone from home can cause some people to feel depressed. It also might end up exacerbating already-existing depression.

“We have reached maximum capacity for changes in the workplace in our society during times of COVID. What once was an idealized format, has now kept some, who continue to work remotely, isolated in routine, and to some degree, stalled in the unknown. Without some measure of our own locus of control, it becomes easy to question our contribution and our worth in the world. Growth and expansion are necessary in order to feel stimulated by what we’re doing, and without both, we can create a pathway for situational and workplace depression.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

How to Cope with Feeling Depressed at Work

Managing work depression symptoms and learning how to treat depression can be challenging. However, there are some simple, effective things you can do when you experience low mood, apathy, or other feelings of depression when you’re on the job. 

For example, you can try:

  • Taking a 5-minute break by yourself
  • Stepping outside and getting some air
  • Taking some deep breaths to clear your head
  • Doing quick exercises while you’re on a break 
  • Doing a set of pushups or just walking around   
  • Getting your blood pumping
  • Practicing deep breathing
  • Setting a timer every hour to remind yourself to stand up or stretch
  • Learning mindfulness meditation to calm your nerves, refocus, and recenter your thoughts 
  • Keeping a journal at your desk and taking a 5-minute writing break multiple times a day
  • Taking a quick break to watch an entertaining or funny video on your phone (studies show that laughter does wonders to quell depression) 

When you’re feeling blue at work, at the very least, try doing something to shift your mindset for just a few minutes. Use that time to focus on your goals and why you have a job in the first place. Try to find gratitude in some aspect of your job.

When to Seek Treatment

Knowing when and how to get a depression diagnosis or proper depression treatment isn’t easy. There are several ways to tell if your depression at work is affecting you to the point where you might need help. Some signs include: 

  • You feel like you’re struggling to perform efficiently  
  • Your anxiety is so heightened it begins to affect other areas of your life
  • You’re constantly looking for any excuse to quit your job
  • You can’t stop crying at work, and you never feel better
  • You’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm

If any of the above describes how you’re feeling, it’s time to consider getting help. Help can come in many forms such as therapy for depression or natural treatments for depression such as light therapy for depression. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or a licensed therapist. Mental health professionals are trained and skilled at providing information and effective, simple techniques designed to help you reduce the frequency and severity of your work depression symptoms. Talkspace offers online therapy that matches you with a licensed therapist right from your device.

Above all, remember that you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are living with adult or teen depression and trying to work every day. There’s no shame or guilt involved. Reach out and find the support you need, so you can love your job and your life once again.

Medically reviewed by: Meaghan Rice, PsyD., LPC

Reviewed On: April 12, 2022