How to Do Your Job When Depression Affects Your Functioning

November 23, 2014 Charity Barrett

Like many average people that we share the world with, people living with depression have good days and bad days. However, when you have depression, your bad brain day can turn into bad brain days, weeks, months, etc. Depending on the nature of your depression and depressive episodes (frequency, severity and length), it can sometimes feel impossible to manage your life in any area, much less a job.

Depression often affects your ability to function and do your job. Try these techniques to do the job even when your functioning is at a low point. Take a look.In very extreme cases where safety and health is involved, there is not much you can or should do other than focus on getting well. Beyond those severe circumstances, I believe there are strategies that you can employ to help your odds of meeting the demands of your career while going through a depressive episode.

Five Ways to to Do the Job When Depression Affects Functioning

Recognize When a Depressive Episode Is Impacting Your Job

The first step in increasing the odds that you will be able to manage your career demands while experiencing an episode of depression is to recognize if you are, in fact, experiencing an episode of depression. If you are familiar with how your depression manifests, it may be easy to know when an episode is coming on and how severe it is going to be. It is usually determined by what, if anything, triggered the depression and your typical baseline. Individuals with dysthymia (also known as chronic depression) are accustomed to feeling a slight sense of sadness mostly all the time for at least two years consecutively.

The usually display of major depressive disorder is periods of the symptoms for at least two weeks but not better explained by another mood disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) created by the American Psychiatric Association has established the criteria for these illnesses and their specifiers. Those who experience episodes that are classified as “mild” or “moderate” in the DSM-V should be able to use some of the strategies listed in this article. Those classified as “severe” typically need to focus on getting well: by definition, the DSM-V states, “the symptoms markedly interfere with social and occupational functioning.”If you feel certain that depression is the cause of your dysfunction, you are ready for the next step.

Arm Yourself With Tools That Improved Your Mood Before

When you feel a bout of depression coming on, be sure to utilize coping skills and other depression treatment options that you know have served you well in the past. Some of the things that I make sure I am consistently doing are: staying in therapy, taking medication and constantly using coping skills that I’ve learned along the way. Once you have found the right treatment combination and have implemented it consistently over time, it should be easier to use these skills to help defeat a bout of depression.

Alert Your Support System and Employer That You Are Unwell

When you recognize that you are not functioning well and are downward-spiraling, notify your support system, which may include your family, friends, therapist and/or psychiatrist. It is important to let your supervisor know that you are sick (you do not have to reveal the nature of your illness). By communicating your status, your support system and your job can begin preparing to help accommodate you throughout your episode.

Prioritize Work Tasks when Your Depression has Decreased Your Productivity

When you feel yourself not being as productive due to the symptoms of depression, prioritize your work tasks based on deadlines and importance. Check with your supervisor to see if there is flexibility with certain tasks and other people that can assist. Make sure you commit your energy to the most pressing issues.

Execute Job Duties to the Best of Your Ability

Try to do your job to the best of your ability with the understanding that your best during a depressive episode will not look like your best when you are not depressed. If you have done all of the appropriate things to ensure the most success while going through your spell, be confident that you have given it your best shot. You may not get employee of the month. You may even get criticized or talked to about your decreased productivity and lackluster work performance. Nevertheless, these are the breaks when you are courageous enough to attempt managing a job when you suffer with depression. You are certainly a winner despite the outcome of your employment situation. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you make it through your depressive episode and keep your job.

You can find Charity on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

APA Reference
Barrett, C. (2014, November 23). How to Do Your Job When Depression Affects Your Functioning, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Charity Barrett

November, 28 2014 at 1:42 pm

Thank you for the post, there is definitely good advice here. Also, it is good, once in awhile, to be reminded that I am not the only person who has to deal with this issue.
At my last job (my job was outsourced) I decided to "come out" as a person with chronic depression to try and fight the stigma that comes with having a mental illness. Everybody was very understanding and supportive - until I had to take time off when I had a depressive episode. I was spoken to by both my manager and the HR manager, who made vague threats regarding my absences from work - even though I had a letter from my psychiatrist stating that I needed to be off work. I know that their attitude would have been different if I had suffered with a "physical" illness because they were definitely more understanding before I disclosed my illness and other people with problems like gallstones or sports injuries were not hassled about being off work. Lesson learned.

November, 28 2014 at 10:08 pm

I am so glad I came across this article, I just went through this situation a week ago. I feel better knowing I followed the exact steps you stated.

December, 2 2015 at 5:35 am

From my experience with depression I have found that people who do not have it just don't understand. I work very hard to hide it. When I have an episode I do take a sick day or two to recover. I do everything I can think of to get myself back to "normal". If my employer knew that I battle depression and anxiety I would not be taken seriously and any plans to move up the latter would not happen. So, to anyone out there who suffers from these are not alone. It is important to take the right supplements and vitamins as well as stay active. Give yourself privacy and time to cry when needed because crying relieves a lot of emotional stress. These are the things that I do. I also talk to a counselor when I can. The episodes will still hit. And there is no way for me to keep it from happening but, the tips I posted helps to keep them shorter and pull out of it quicker.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alissa Breighton
October, 25 2017 at 9:40 am

I know that this is 2years old, but I still wanted to add my voice.
Pretending to be ok when you are severely depressed and barely hanging on is completely exhausting. Its an unending effort. You have to smile. You have to be aware of body language. You need to make eye contact. You've gotta say the right things and in context. Its actually really really hard. I've learned to pretend. For me, I ALWAYS make sure I look really good. When people see me makeup looking great, clothes well styled they all assume I'm on top of my game. Little does this world know I am really balled up in a corner crying, I am really crying inside despite my best red lips. I'm a single mom know, which has exponentially magnified a particular darkness, emptiness, and brokenness in me that I haven't been able to shake. I can not express enough that I am so tired. I am so tired of pretending. I'm tired of acting like I'm ok when I'm really not and I need help. :( I don't feel like anyone understands what I'm going through.... but I know that's not true bc I've found this post. Would anyone like to talk about your sadness/social anxiety/depression? If you do, and I don't care if its 2029 you may write to me at

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 3 2018 at 2:29 pm

I do the same thing. On the outside I look so put together. I’m always dressed up for work with my hair and make-up done. When I tell people, even a former therapist, that I’m struggling with severe depression they are always surprised. I don’t fit the normal look of a depressed person to them. If they could only see me not in public. My house is a mess because I just don’t have the energy to clean, cook, do dishes, etc. On weekends I always shower but usually put my pjs back on. Living is just exhausting.

October, 9 2017 at 9:29 pm

This thread seems to not be active any more but I'm so glad I came across it! I am suffering horrendously with depression and anxiety at the moment - some of it personal, some of it work issues. I had a meeting with my manager yesterday and I was told I am not being productive enough and was asked if it was "acceptable" that I took so long to do certain tasks. I explained that I am really struggling at the moment, that I have vivid nightmares most nights and I wake up petrified and can't get back to sleep so I can't concentrate properly and my memory is shot, that I have developed social anxiety because I don't want to have a breakdown in front of anyone at work. I'm petrified of being 'found out' that I have depression, that i have had to use my annual leave because I felt that phoning in and saying "I physically cannot get out of bed" was not a good enough reason to phone in sick. Most mornings I'm barely awake to drive and most evenings I am sobbing all the way home from exhaustion of trying to keep my head above water. As much as I tried to hold myself together, I just completely broke down saying all this.
My manager paused and looked at me and said "I think you need to find techniques to be more productive at work"
No one can possibly know what it is like to have depression if they haven't experienced it. To be consumed by crippling 'episodes' and the daily fight with yourself that leaves you unable to even muster the energy to take basic care of yourself. Seemingly small tasks like washing your hair or making dinner take serious emotional evaluation.
So....Dear Manager,
Sometimes I can't cope. I can't just suddenly become more productive. I can't just "take a day" and suddenly come back fighting fit... it's me I'm fighting and I'm black and blue.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 11 2017 at 3:33 pm

This. So much this. I'm so glad to find a place to talk about coping strategies at work.
I've suffered from recurring depressive episodes for the last 10 years. Even though my employer was supportive, I quit my job during the first episode, which lasted about 3 months. At the time I was living in a place far away from family and didn't have any social support and this was the right decision for me then.
Since then I have moved closer to home and found a partner who I can be myself with in the worst of my episodes. My partner really helps with the day to day support, especially on days where I cannot get out of bed. Having family to occasionally prod me for things also makes a big difference in getting me out and moving if not writing stellar reports for my boss while I am going through my depressive episodes. It helps having them around, generally, even when they sometimes lose patience with me. They give context to the disease, help me to stay centred and realize how the idea of not being loved and not having a purpose is a symptom. Of course, learning other aforementioned coping skills has helped too.
My hometown is a place where people are less aware and supportive of mental illness. I have had no choice but to disclose to my immediate bosses as when they come the episodes are sometimes debilitating and I have also used up my annual leave to cover for it as sick leave wasn't enough. So far with my current employer I have had one really bad episode that lasted 2 months about a year into the job and am in the middle of a second episode, 2 years later, where it's been a month but I am only starting to feel better and it's too early to tell if my mood will stick. I am still trying to figure out the best way to work with my employer about what is happening. One of my bosses sort of gets it (in the way that people not having gone through this can imagine it) and the other one is getting impatient and pushy. It's hard because by the time I realize I am down I am already not in a place where I can be decisive and make the kind of decisions that'll help me cope through the episode. I don't really feel ready to discuss this with my colleagues, but I also did have to tell the other person on my team when that first episode happened. Thankfully they were supportive too. I wish I lived in a place where I could feel safe to be open about my condition. When I am not sick I deliver solid work, probably better than average. People don't remember the solid work in the times when I am sick though. Boss #2 who I work with the most is difficult as her personality doesn't allow for consistency and this kind of long term consistency in our team needs to come from me but I can't provide it when an episode hits. I just feel like I haven't seen any good examples of workplace ideas that can incorporate the kind of fluctuations I go through. I wish famous successful people would share more about this aspect of living with a mental illness.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alissa Breighton
October, 25 2017 at 9:29 am

I also just came across this blog today. I've been struggling miserably through depression also , for the last 15years. I struggle everyday, and I cry everyday inside. I'm scared to really reveal the depths of my sadness to anyone. I've become untrusting of humans. Work ... is just hell there's no other way I can say it. I'm an insurance underwriter managing about 9 different states, using 3 computers and a host of applications. I am mentally exhausted I am pained everyday that I'm here thank god I can listen to my music. I am miserable, I am sad and I just want to feel better. I've been on klonopin, welbutrin, and Effexor. I've gotten a therapist now and it just seems like such a waste. There aren't enough tears, and I get frustrated with wanted to delve deep into my pain and give voice to it in a safe space only to have to stop in an hr. I'm so tired. I'm tired down to my soul of pretending to be ok socially. I'm tired of wearing a smile when I'm down. I'm tired of leaving my house at 630am with my 3year old. I'm tired of it all. I really need one of those in patient programs the swanky ones in California where I can take a time out from life and work on my issues. I couldn't dream of anything like that. Anyway, I'm just tired I can't explain it any better than that. I'm tired of fighting the sadness moment to moment. I'm breaking down... I'm sinking into it now after 15years... I have surrendered to sadness.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 26 2017 at 6:35 am

Dear Alissa,
I'm the current author of another HealthyPlace blog, 'Coping with Depression.' I came across your comment and wanted to give you a big hug. I have felt like you have many times. You mentioned your music. Keep and hold on to that. I hope you will be able to find other things that can bring you some joy.
--Michelle Sedas

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 26 2017 at 6:29 am

Dear Woc,
I'm the author of a different HealthyPlace blog, 'Coping with Depression,' but I came across your blog post and wanted to let you know I understand these feelings very well. I do agree that it would be nice for more famous, successful people to share about living with mental illness.
I wish you the best,
--Michelle Sedas

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 26 2017 at 1:31 am

My goodness, you poor thing. Thank you so much for your eloquent, articulate description of depression. And screw that manager...they'll get theirs.
It's remarkable that you keep going, I admire and respect that so much. I've used almost all of my PTO for this year due to illness (not the mental kind, ha). I'm Bipolar II and experiencing a depressive episode; I've been hypomanic since I started my job three months ago. Now everyone wants to know where the other Cassidy went; little do they know, there's more than one Cassidy.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 26 2017 at 6:23 am

Hello Tree,
I am the current author of a different blog, 'Coping with Depression.' I came across your comment and wanted to let you know how much I truly understand everything that you've written. I'm so sorry you are going through this right now. I'm proud of you for trying to speak with your manager. I want to encourage you to seek treatment for your depression and anxiety if you're not already. Here is an article on Depression Treatment Options:
I wish you the best,
--Michelle Sedas

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Wilkenia Pujols
June, 30 2018 at 9:39 am

I understand :(

October, 28 2017 at 4:11 pm

Hello, I am Jennifer, the current author of the "Coping with Depression" blog. I want you all to know that I understand. I have been where you are. There are days in which I am still where you are. I'm fighting stigma in my community and, sometimes, in my own family. Some things that help me are regular visits with my psychiatrist and my therapist, and also antidepressant medications as well as a medication that helps me sleep each night. Truly, it is so difficult for people who have never suffered from depression to grasp how debilitating it is. I'm glad you all came to HealthyPlace and were able to connect and receive understanding and empathy. Please know that you are brave and strong, and that together we will continue to bring awareness to this cause.
Jennifer Smith

April, 5 2018 at 10:20 pm

I came across the post in my random internet searches for help in trying to get through my current “episode” . I have clinical mdd, anxiety-panic disorder, I continuously cycle from insomnia to hypersomnia, and a bit but not extreme ocd. Currently I just finished an almost 4 week stretch of insomnia, then my major low depression started to kick ind I went immediately into hypersomnia phase and I’m about a week and a half into that. My ultimate lows have been yesterday and today, and today I finally lost the fight in holding myself together and broke about 10 minutes into my work day. Had the step outside, go to the bathroom 3 times to cry, got virtually no productive work done, then at lunch I left and couldn’t muster the strength to go back. So I called my boss and left him a voicemail simply just telling him basically the truth, that I’ve hit a major emotional low that I’ve been trying to hold back for weeks now and today was just too much. I am very sorry for how this is affected my work for the past little bit and I feel horrible having to leave early today , But all I can do is just apologize and say that I hope I have finally reach the bottom of this and will soon be on my way back up. (Then spaced out for a few too long of seconds) themed with - ok, if you need me, call me, thank you. Hung up. Well, he never called and I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to go to work tomorrow. I work at a law firm and I’ve been there for eight years now. My job is very stressful and time-consuming, and my entire office completely depends on me, my work and me being there every day. And of course there’s the fact that just because I’m suffering from an episode does not change the fact that I still have to meet court deadlines and prepare for hearings, etc. I have spoken with my boss a small bit about my living with depression and I have had to leave work a few times over the years because of it, and he’s always been as supportive as he can be, not ever having dealt with it himself, but I have this feeling that his time for understanding is wearing thin. To all of you out there, please do not give up the fight, don’t give in to the darkness, try best to keep your head up, continue to make yourself get out of bed, get cleaned up dress nice just like normal, slap that happy smile on your face whenever you can, just keep going. One of my favorite lines from a song by Florence and the Machine says “it’s always darkest before the dawn”

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 20 2018 at 9:13 am

I just felt like I needed to reach out to you. I hope that things went okay at your job. I too came across this blog by accident. So thankful that I did. It is nice to know that I am not alone. My depression came about after an incident that occured in 2014. Yesterday a similar situation occured to someone else that i knew. I just brought back all the feelings of helplessness and anxiety. I had a flow blown anxiety attack last night and it woke me up. Took me a long time to go back to sleep and I never really recovered. Ive been at work since 8 a.m. and been just staring at my computer. I cant seem to even move a peice of paper... just want to go to sleep.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 28 2018 at 3:19 pm

I hope you went back and were accepting back. Think of it like this: if you started vomiting, you could certainly leave and come back the next day. It IS challenging for supervisors who have an employee that suffers through episodes like this, but keep your head up. Breathe when you can.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 14 2018 at 5:00 pm

I'm in the thick of a depressive episode right now too and like you, I'm a lawyer. I'm newly qualified so the anxiety of all the things I feel I should know but don't is adding more pressure. My boss knows I've had problems in the past but I've never let it affect my work, but now it's starting to. I can't think straight, I can't motivate myself and now I'm worrying constantly that I'm going to mess up majorly. I've spoken to my boss about it and he told me to take off all the time I need and not to worry about work but they won't pay me if I'm off sick and as I live alone, I can't survive without an income. So in essence, absolutely nothing has changed. No one has discussed my workload with me and what they can do to ease the pressure, no one has told me to take a 10 minute breather outside if I need it, I just feel like it's just a case of "suck it up and get on with it".

August, 13 2018 at 4:50 am

Thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Depression is such an isolating condition, it really helps to know we share so many common issues and experiences, including fear of stigma and being judged, and most of all lack of understanding from others.
I had to give up my job in healthcare (which I loved) because performance management policies didn't take account of my illness, despite my managers being aware that I was on a long waiting list for treatment. When you have depression and anxiety the last thing you need is being given extra responsibilities, then taken to task for not coping. It is like pouring petrol onto a fire. As someone who is conscientious and holds myself to high standards, this was unbearable. I tried so hard to comply, but the gargantuan effort it took to achieve even small improvements left me with nothing in reserve, so when the process was escalated I spiralled down even further, to the point that if I hadn't resigned I have no doubt that I would have acted on the suicidal thoughts I was experiencing.
Nobody should have to go through that, especially working for a health organisation. I miss my work and my colleagues more than I can say, but am trying to channel the sadness and feelings of being badly let down into something positive, so am lobbying for change: better awareness of mental health issues, training for managers, and for mental health to be given the same weighting and understanding as physical health. Too late for me, unfortunately, but I hope it might help me come to terms with things if I can use my experience as a catalyst for improvement.
Stay strong, and believe in yourself, even when it is difficult. Depression is recoverable, given time and the right support. Ask for help, and take it when it is offered. You don't have to do this on your own. Remember there are many others going through something similar, and it is not your fault. It doesn't mean you are weak or lazy, and it isn't a character flaw. In fact it probably means you care too much. Good luck, everyone.

August, 21 2019 at 2:26 am

What I find extremely useless is the fact that therapy is the only way to get better...and yet, when you are depressed, it's difficult to hold a steady job long enough to PAY for therapy. So what do you do then? My depression has definitely lasted longer than two weeks, and I'm wondering if it's chronic. But it's not like I can afford to get a proper diagnosis. At one time, it lasted one whole year. The one therapist I found to treat me cost me $200. I can barely afford $50, which I've found is the lowest! I've tried looking up resources, to no avail. I would like to know alternatives to this problem.

September, 13 2019 at 1:57 pm

Hi Lauren,
I'm so sorry to hear you're struggling with this. I know how challenging and frustrating it can be to find effective, affordable mental health treatment, and it absolutely shouldn't be this way. I've included a link below that offers some alternatives to this problem and provides information for where you can look to hopefully find mental health treatment in your area.…
If you're still having issues, feel free to get in touch again and I'll see if there's any other info I can provide. Wishing you the best.
- Natalie (Author of Work and Bipolar or Depression)

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