Categories: Environmental Issues

Managing MDD and Your Job

By Natasha Tracy, mental health author and advocate, as told to Kara Mayer Robinson 

In some ways, MDD can make work more difficult. It may create added stress and make your responsibilities feel more challenging. Hard work, deadlines, and an unfriendly environment may be a struggle. 

On the other hand, work has the ability to help with some aspects of MDD. Having a routine, social contacts, and supportive people around you can help you manage your symptoms better. 

Everyone is different and so is each workplace, so it depends on the environment where you work. 

Here are common challenges you may have at work and what you can do to manage them.

Missed Work

With MDD, the first thing that may come up is missed work. Depression can be debilitating, so getting yourself to work every day may be a challenge. If you have severe MDD, it may be hard just to get out of bed in the morning. On some days, taking a shower, getting dressed, and getting to work can be too much. 

You may be able to take sick leave or short-term leave to feel better. Talk to your human resources department. Find out what sick time or personal time you’re entitled to and how to access it. You don’t have to say what specific illness you need time off for, at least initially.

Work Feels Challenging

Depression may affect the quality of your work. Mental slowing, brain fog, indecisiveness, and a lack of motivation can make it harder for you to do your job.

It may help to ask for reasonable accommodations. For example, if you have trouble picking up all the details in a meeting because it’s overwhelming, ask to review the meeting notes or recording later to get the information you need. Similarly, asking for an extension on a deadline can give you the leeway you need to complete a task.

Some managers are willing to make accommodations without even knowing you have a specific illness.

You Feel Isolated

With MDD, it may be harder to make social connections that can help you thrive at work.

If you feel isolated or lonely, try joining an activity with other co-workers. Having something in common to talk about can make social interactions easier.

Should You Tell Your Boss?

Telling your manager or supervisor about your MDD is a big decision, as there’s no putting that cat back in the bag.

On one hand, once your supervisor knows, you may be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This allows you to ask for reasonable accommodations to help you do your job and protects you against discrimination.

On the other hand, some people may look down at mental illness. While the ADA should protect you, some managers may find a way around it. It’s also extremely difficult to prove an action was motivated by your mental illness rather than legitimate work concerns. And while your supervisor should treat your health information with the utmost privacy, there’s no accounting for someone with loose lips. 

If you tell your supervisor:

  • Make it clear that you want to work and want it to be a positive experience for everyone.
  • Research accommodations that others with MDD have used.
  • Talk openly and directly with your supervisor about accommodations you’d like.
  • Make sure it’s clear that you expect discretion with your information.
  • If all else fails, get human resources involved to help with the discussion.

What to Do If You’re the Boss

Telling your staff about your MDD is a big decision. 

Possible benefits include:

  • A better understanding of you and what you’re going through
  • Greater authenticity in the place where you spend so much of your time
  • A more open, equitable workplace for others with a mental illness. When leaders take the reins and show themselves to be human and like everyone else, it creates a better environment for everyone.

That said, while opening up with your staff may be met with congratulations for your bravery, some may have a negative response. They may whisper rumors about you due to your illness. Others may think you’re not fit for leadership. There’s still a stigma around mental illness, so you may feel judged or excluded. 

If you decide to open up to your staff, try these tips:

  • Share a few facts about MDD so they understand your diagnosis.
  • Create an “open door” policy around your MDD. Allow any employee with questions or concerns to come to you directly.
  • Assure them that having an illness doesn’t mean you can’t do your job. People with MDD go on to lead companies and have success.

Should You Tell Your Co-workers?

I always say if more than three people know something, it’s no longer a secret. Workplaces are gossipy environments, so as soon as you start telling select people, it’s safe to assume it’ll get around to others. 

These tips may help you decide what to do:

  • Think about what it would be like if the whole office knew of your MDD.
  • If you decide to tell some people, choose people who will be supportive.
  • Think about other people in your workplace who have disabilities like mental illness. Are people supportive of them? Do you want to be treated like they’re treated?
  • Ask yourself if you handle all the questions that might come up and the stigma you may face. If you’re suffering a lot with MDD, it may feel like too much.

Tips for Managing Work and MDD

These tips may help you manage MDD at work:

  • Think about the kind of environment you could do your best work in. Ask for accommodations to make it happen.
  • Carefully consider whether you want to share your diagnosis with others. Sometimes it isn’t worth the risk.
  • If you do open up, connect with others who will support you.
  • Keep up with your MDD treatments. If you let your MDD slide, your work will suffer.
  • Talk to a therapist about MDD coping skills you can use at work. Therapy can help you manage MDD symptoms and improve your performance at work.

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