Here’s What No One Tells You About Workplace Depression

I’m a happy person. By all accounts, my life is good.

In fact, you and I are probably pretty similar. I’m in my mid-twenties, busy putting my bachelor’s degree to good use at a full-time job. I spend half my weekend in bed binge-watching whatever new show I’m into and the other half outdoors. I enjoy trying new recipes, spoiling my two cats as if they were human and scrolling my Instagram feed before nodding off to sleep. I consider myself fairly average and happy.

That was the case until last year. Over the course of six months, I lost interest in everyone and everything – my family, friends, hobbies and job. I became reclusive, restless, negative and quick to anger. My happiness and love for life vanished. Nothing mattered anymore.

I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t control it. I felt hopeless and alone.

An estimated 25 million Americans – nearly 13 percent of the population – live with major depression.

Instead of doing something about it, I ignored it. I had a job to focus on, a family to tend to, a new home to purchase – so much to be happy and thankful for. The day we moved I sat on the bed and thought: This is perfect. This is everything we wanted. I should be happy. But I just can’t.

It was easier to pretend everything was OK than to admit I needed help. Asking for help would only make it more of a reality. I didn’t want to entertain the idea that something serious was happening to me. I didn’t want my family, friends and co-workers to worry.

I figured it was a phase that would pass. But no matter how much I pretended, it was still there, following me like a thick fog. It was the first thing on my mind when I woke for work and the last at night.

It consumed me. It took multiple crying fits, violent outbursts and fantasizing crashing my car to be honest with myself: I was depressed and needed help.

My life was, by all accounts, very good. I had a stable job, money in the bank, a new roof over my head and a wonderful circle of family and friends. But it didn’t matter. Nothing did. Had someone asked me what more I wanted, I would’ve said “nothing.” And it was true.

You could be leading the best possible life and still be sad depressed.

I wrote an article a few months ago on the difference between sadness and depression. One of the reasons our society struggles with the concept of depression and how to handle it is because we’re not clear of the meaning.

Mary Hoke, Assistant Executive Director of Programs at Jewish Family & Children’s Services says we confuse sadness for depression all too often. “We see it a lot but there’s a huge difference. People misuse the language. It’s common for people to say, ‘I’m depressed’ when they’re really just sad.”

LaDonna Haley, Director of Mental Health Information at Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri, agrees. “In our society we throw around terms that have definitive meanings but use them as if they’re adjectives. People say, ‘He’s so paranoid’ or ‘She’s so OCD.’ Just because she likes to clean her house, doesn’t mean she has OCD. They probably don’t know exactly what it means and that these mental health terms require very specific diagnostic criteria.”

So what is the difference?

Mary explains that sadness is one of the most normal and frequent human emotions. Sadness can be triggered by many things in our lives; however, the emotion of it fades.

“Depression is an abnormal emotional state that affects your thinking, emotions, behavior and is chronic throughout all parts of your life. When you’re depressed, you’re sad about everything. The emotional state of depression doesn’t require a trigger. Sometimes people’s lives appear just fine but they feel awful, while sadness can usually be pointed to a circumstance.”

Because depression is ongoing, it holds the power to affect life both inside and outside the office. Symptoms include loss of interest, difficulty concentrating, irritability, low self-esteem, guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness, potential changes in weight or appetite, loss of energy, difficulty sleeping and suicidal thoughts.

Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, following only family crisis and stress.

The good news is that more than 80 percent of people with clinical depression can be successfully treated and continue their lives unaffected.

With such a successful treatment rate, you’d expect the number of those seeking treatment to be sky-high, but only 29 percent of people with depression report to have contacted a mental health professional in the past year.

Clinical depression has become one of America’s most costly illnesses.

Untreated, workplace depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the U.S. economy, costing over 200 million lost workdays each year, $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity, and $26 billion in direct treatment costs.

Why is this?

One reason is the lack of education surrounding mental health. Many people meet the clinical criteria but don’t realize it. There are a lot who go without treatment because they don’t think they can get better.

Another reason: stigma. LaDonna explains that we tend to view our brain separate from the rest of our body, when really it’s our brain that runs everything else. When there’s something wrong with it, it affects the rest of us.

“People don’t want to believe they may have a condition.”

This means, for those who have always had this underlying condition, it feels normal; there’s less recognition and motivation for things to be different. Those who have never had depression and become depressed recognize the change in themselves and are more motivated to address it. And there are those who are unaware they have depression at all.

The reality: Most people will experience a mental health concern in their lives.

While occupations are rarely to blame for depression, it’s not uncommon for some to be tied to employee unhappiness.

Depression is recurring, but with early recognition, intervention, and support, most can overcome clinical depression and pick up where they left off. Without it, symptoms can worsen and linger, potentially lasting a lifetime.

“Remember getting help is a sign of strength not a weakness,” Mary says.

There is hope. You’re not alone. If you believe you are experiencing depression, please call 2-1-1 (1-800-427-4626) to find resources in your area that can help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Abby Downs

Abby Downs is a St. Louis native and professional writer. If she doesn’t have a pen in her hand, it’s a camera. When she’s not busy combining these two loves, she can be found binge-watching 90s sitcoms, trying new cheeses and planning her next big adventure.