Living with Depression: How to Keep Working

By Emily Johnson | Apr. 07, 2017


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.

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
4/18/2017 4:39:17 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
4/17/2017 5:47:56 PM

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.
4/10/2017 3:08:35 AM

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"
4/8/2017 6:01:53 PM

Leslie Harris
Love this organization
4/8/2017 7:07:32 AM

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