When we’re struggling with depression, giving it our all at work can feel like a Herculean task. Masking irritability and sadness is exhausting. The inability to concentrate makes it difficult to complete job duties. And that’s just when we’re in the office – low energy makes it difficult to even show up in the first place.
According to one survey, more than 7 percent of millennial workers reported experiencing depression, the highest among three age groups. Millennials are also the most anxious age group compared to Generation X and Baby Boomers. The same survey revealed that 28 percent of employees have missed three to six days of work annually because of stress.
But depression doesn’t have to derail a career. By taking certain steps – most importantly, seeking help – we can protect our mental health and our jobs.
Should I Tell My Employer?
Discussing mental health with an employer is a very personal choice. It’s private health information, so you’re not required to disclose it to anyone in the workplace. However, if performance is suffering, it might be worthwhile to consider talking to a manager. And if speaking up feels right, consider the timing: A manager is more likely to feel reassured if it’s clear that treatment is being sought.
But what if treatment hasn’t yet been sought? Indeed, it can be tough to even know where to begin. Believe it or not, employers can help. Most HR departments can connect you with your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Again, it’s not necessary to disclose why that connection needs to be made.
“EAP is free and confidential and they can assist with a variety of things such as locating a therapist, helping you with financial issues/questions, assistance with locating child care, and much, much more” says one Boston-based HR professional.
What Can I Expect from EAPs?
We checked in with ComPsych, the largest provider of EAPs in the world, to learn what employees can expect when they contact an employee assistance program.
Making Contact: In most cases, employees call an 800-number and speak to a master’s-level clinician. This initial conversation will allow the clinician to assess any issues. That’s typically followed by a referral to a local counseling provider, based on personal preferences (including gender, location and hours of operation) and area of expertise (i.e. substance abuse or marital counseling). They’ll even help set up the first appointment.
But this is 2017, and some of us aren’t “phone” people. ComPsych says they also offer online chat, apps and video counseling for those who prefer to access help in other ways. No matter the method, most EAPs will still recommend seeing someone in person, since counselors can pick up on visual and non-verbal cues that are especially important with issues like depression.
What You Get: Confidential and free guidance. According to ComPsych, most companies have plans with five-to-eight counseling sessions for each employee issue. EAPs are usually used for short-term counseling needs for less severe issues, but it can serve as a bridge to managed behavioral health for more serious cases. This may include inpatient and outpatient care, as well as prescription medication.
How to Cope At Work
While undergoing treatment, it may become necessary to tap into coping skills to help get through the tough days. Consider these tips:
Set Goals and Make Lists
Depression wreaks havoc on our attention span and short-term memory. Take additional notes in meetings, make lists and prioritize tasks to ensure the most important things are getting done. If you’re having trouble focusing, be sure to allow extra time to complete an assignment.
Take a Breather
Crying in the bathroom doesn’t count. When focus is lost or anxiety begins to mount, take a few deep breaths and count to 10. This mindfulness technique helps to calm nerves and allows for refocusing.
Another mood-booster is getting outside for a lunchtime walk. The fresh air and change of scenery can help change perspective, at least while at work.
Take Care of Yourself Outside of Work
Be sure to focus on self-care techniques, including getting a good night’s sleep, taking medication and participating in enjoyable activities.
Can I Take a Leave of Absence for Depression?
It may be possible to take a leave of absence, depending upon the severity of your depression, according to the HR professional we spoke to. The leave may or may not be job-protected, depending upon individual eligibility for The Family and Medical Leave Act, commonly referred to as FMLA, as well as whether or not the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) could be used for work accommodations.
Even if you decide to take a leave of absence, you’re not required to tell your employer anything more than that treatment is being sought for a health issue. However, most companies will ask for medical documentation to support a leave request.
Taking time off can make many of us nervous, but consider this: A temporary absence to get healthy is more likely to benefit ourselves and our careers in the long run.