Living with Depression: How to Keep Working

APR. 07, 2017

By Emily Johnson


I live with a high-functioning depression in my life, and in the workplace. I’ve been struggling since 2015, when I thought it was just fatigue. Medication and therapy have helped me feel better, but I still experience depressive episodes. Sometimes going to the office seems close to impossible—even though I love my job. And like most others, I can't take the liberty to refuse regular income and stop working for a while. But what I’ve discovered is: You can work when depressed.

Yes, depression can make work more challenging, but you can still be productive. It just requires self-acceptance and open communication with your professional circle. Well, and a couple other things. It took me a while to figure it all out, but I now feel that I can effectively cope with my depression at work. Here’s how I do it:

Break Up Tasks

When experiencing depression, you’re probably content with the fact that you managed to make it to work. But now that you’re at your desk, you actually have to accomplish tasks. To handle the lack of concentration and energy, break up your work into small pieces with breaks between them.

For example, when I’m writing a blog post, I start with two paragraphs. Once I’ve accomplished that, I take a 15-minute break. Then I go back to work. This tactic helps complete tasks step-by-step.

Say No

“Do something productive, and you’ll have no time for depression.” How often have you heard this kind of advice while feeling sad, stressed or depressed? I've lost count. And the kicker is: Many people believe that work addiction (being consumed by something “productive”) can heal a person’s emotional pain. Well, I can tell you firsthand that the principle of fighting fire with fire does not help.

There is no harm in saying no when you know that your colleagues can complete tasks themselves. Delegate when appropriate. And consider letting them know about your condition if you feel comfortable and supported.

Speak Openly About Your Depression

While there are potential downsides to being open about a mental health condition at work, it can be beneficial to tell your coworkers and supervisors. Explain your condition and symptoms in a way they can understand—that you are managing depression, not losing interest in work. There also might be potential accommodations available for your condition, like working from home.

Practice Heartfulness

Heartfulness is a type of meditation that involves listening to your heart rather than your mind as your guiding principle in life. Since depression is a mental condition (mind), putting emphasis on your heart might help you make decisions and keep working when your mind is telling you “you can’t” or “what’s the point.” You can begin this practice by focusing inward and “listening” to your heart once a day.

Personalize Your Workspace

Work environments influence your mood; physical components such as lighting, temperature, colors and noise may impact your mental health. So make your space positive and comfortable—bring plants, pictures of your family, motivational quotes or whatever inspires you. Loud noises can affect attention span and mood, so it might be helpful to have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to help you focus.

You can have a full-time job and a fulfilling life despite your depression. Specific lifestyle habits, effective therapy and medical care can help you to recover and continue working efficiently. Nothing is impossible for those who have found the strength to accept and challenge their depression.


Emily Johnson is a writer and contributor to many websites about health and work productivity. She shares her experience with others, and you can always find more works of hers on Twitter.


APR, 10, 2018 07:32:01 AM
Thanks so much for this information. I have been dealing with Depression on and off since October and I have visited several docs but they can’t tell me what is causing it. One of my friends told me about and PeaPlex is very helpful therefore.

AUG, 21, 2017 06:08:12 PM
Sandra M. Bovain
Thanks for the feedback regarding how to handle having a mental health condition in the workplace. I am a retired Counselor at the Master's level. When I, "came out" and confessed to my immediate coworkers that I am bipolar with predominately ongoing depression issues I found it helpful to help them to understand mental illness. I gave out literature for them to read beginning with my personal statement, "It is time to break the silence." There were mixed responses ranging from total disbelief and avoidance behavior to extreme compassion and respect for my daily plight and ability to function with my illness. As a result, I discovered and now share the same opinion that someone once expressed to me, "Those who matter don't mind and those who mind don't matter (or something like that)."

JUL, 03, 2017 12:21:04 PM
Annamarie Sebastiano
This was very helpful to me. I work in retail, which is always crazy busy. As I look back on my long career as an Executive Assistant and over 20 years in the mortgage business, part of me is just tired of working. I am 66, so I collect SS, but I still need to work P/T to make ends meet. Finding the right fit in a job is essential to me. I am just realizing that in more than several companies, I have taken a leave of absence for depression. That, in itself is depressing to me. I need a social network. I never really stayed in touch with people I've worked with and am looking for people closer to my age who can understand. I had some great friends, but they are about 20 years younger. So now, they have their own families. I am committed to get on track to have some enjoyment in my life.

MAY, 30, 2017 01:01:44 PM
Ally Street
I like the suggestion of breaking down tasks into segments and taking a break in between. As far as discussing your illness with your boss/co-workers, I would be hesitant to do so. I work in mental health and have attempted to do just that and have received some very odd responses. "Don't bare your neck to the wolf" is a proverb I've come to understand more as I try to navigate my illness. It amazes me how the stigma of mental illness is still so prevalent. Even with my family, I sense they see my depression/PTSD as a weakness and I am not comfortable talking openly with them about it either.

MAY, 02, 2017 01:07:43 PM
Christina Burr
Great article. I am currently a master's student in a clinical counseling program but this will be a second career for me. I have an MBA and have worked in a business setting for 14 years and in management for the past 9 years. I have also struggled with chronic depression for most of my life. One of the areas I want to focus when I complete my studies is mental health awareness, education and compassion in the workplace. This needs to be a topic that is talked about more and managers need to understand that it is an illness.

APR, 27, 2017 05:48:57 PM
Neal Benzel
This article assumes everyone suffering from depression works in an office setting and has some flexibility in accommodating their illness. I work in a warehouse at a very physical job that doesn't allow me any downtime. For me the physicality of my job and the fact that there isn't any downtime, helps me push through any potential depressive episodes. Please don't forget that depression doesn't discriminate. It effects all socio-economic backrounds. So please don't assume that it only affects people with office jobs. Most people don't even work in offices.

APR, 27, 2017 04:10:02 PM
Sarah Wersan
Emily, thank you for writing about this topic. In addition to Bipolar I, I have great difficulty figuring out office politics and work relationships that are new. I have held most jobs very briefly. At this point, I have not worked for about 5 years and don't know if an employer would hire me considering the above plus the gap.. Still, I would like to be a productive member of society. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.

APR, 27, 2017 03:12:01 PM
Cheryl Winfield
Talking about your depression (or any mental illness) will not be a good idea, rather speak like you are well-educated on the subject in order to get a 'feel' about the place & people. Since stigma is ripe & ready for the taking, someone at work might view you as a safety problem, or a hazard since many places that were places of workplace violence label the shooter as one with depression, or mentally ill. Your supervisors & HR may not want you to talk about your health, as it is not the place for the subject/topic. Unless NAMI or some other mental illness site has a career page (not to work there but list place that are educated in mental illness to be safe working there) to apply for jobs that will work with you as you are working for them.

APR, 23, 2017 04:22:18 PM
Stephanie Durruthy,MD, DFAPA
The decision to disclose any medical condition is difficult. The stigma associated with mental illnesses add to the complexity of this disclosure. Its best to address any decisions that may have implications with your mental health providers. When symptomatic with active disease its difficult to make any decision. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to reverse a job termination due to poor performance. Employers may have a legal obligations for accommodation on prior disclosed conditions. I often refer my patients to this site for Americans with Disabilities Information.
Be well,
Stephanie Durruthy, MD,DFAPA

APR, 21, 2017 12:09:48 PM
Suzanne Bandonf
I have been in depression & worsen to PTSD. This has debilitated me for years. I hope by bring part if your good org that I can understand & accept myself better and be more useful & productive than what I am currently. Thank you

APR, 18, 2017 04:39:17 PM
Stefanie Glick
While there are many good suggestions for helping people to manage symptoms while working in this article, speaking out about depression with one's coworkers and supervisors is at times not only not "beneficial, but can actually be harmful to both one's career, recovery and mental health.

Rather, I wonder if you might want to emphasize that deciding whether or not to talk about one's depression in the workplace is a very personal decision and varies in each circumstance; and perhaps the best thing to do is to discuss the important decision with a mental health professional and/or peer, and to carefully research one's rights. For example, you could link here:

With kind regards,
Stefanie Glick
Director, LiveWell Foundation

APR, 17, 2017 05:47:56 PM
Honestly I'm scared to go back since one of the things that brought me here was my job and he told other employees what's going to happen to me so Im beginning to think I need to make a decision since nobody will help me

APR, 10, 2017 03:08:35 AM
Melissa Sutherland
Thank you.... I don't feel as alone now. I am on the upward climb myself... little tiny steps up a huge mountain... to working and living and being everything I need to be while managing ( or at least trying to manage) physical, emotional, spiritual, and physiological changes in my mid life.

APR, 08, 2017 06:01:53 PM
Grant Mitchell
This is a great read which is especially short and to the point, I work with young adults in the inpatient mental health setting and I feel that is often a question many wonder especially after a first time acute episode or during transition to college/employment: "can I continue to work or go to school with my mental health condition" and we need to reinforce our youth that, "yes you can"

APR, 08, 2017 07:07:32 AM
Leslie Harris
Love this organization

Submit to the NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.