Currently Employed - Navigating the Workplace with Depression

Tips for Working While Depressed

Working while experiencing depression can feel next to impossible some days. Below are a few tips for navigating work while depressed. 


  • Break up tasks: it can be difficult to combat the lack of concentration and energy that often accompanies depression. Breaking up tasks into small chunks can be helpful. For example, instead of writing an entire newsletter in one sitting, try just writing one paragraph.  Then take a break if you need to, and try writing another paragraph.  It’ll be less daunting to complete the task when it’s broken up into smaller chunks, and you might find that once you get started, things will start to flow more.
  • Say no: Be sure to delegate tasks when appropriate. If you feel comfortable, consider letting colleagues know about your condition so they understand where you’re coming from. 
  • Speak about your depression: While there are potential downsides to being open about your mental health condition at work, if you are in a position to do so, it can be beneficial to disclose to coworkers and supervisors. This can help coworkers support you when you are having a bad day, for instance, and there also may be potential accommodations available to you (i.e. working from home). 
  • Personalize your workspace: Physical environment can have a large influence on mood. Lighting, temperature, colors, and noise all have the potential to impact your mental health. Try to make your space positive and comfortable – bring plants, pictures of people you care about, inspirational quotes, etc. If loud noises affect your attention span/mood, consider purchasing noise-canceling headphones to help. 
  • Create a wellness kit: create a kit of wellness supplies to help you cope with low mood while you’re at work. Examples of supplies could include: 
    • Essential oils of your favorite grounding scents
    • Stress balls/silly putty 
    • Ear buds for listening to a meditation or favorite playlist
    • Tissues
    • Calming teas
    • Instant ice packs (in periods of high emotional intensity)
    • Small journal & pen to write down thoughts



Know Your Rights as an Employee

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against job applicants and employees with disabilities. The law applies to private employers with 15+ employees and state and local government employers. 


  • Though you must be able to perform the essential tasks of your job, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations. These are adjustments made to work procedures/rules to help you perform your job. Examples include:
    • flexible work schedules
    • reduced noise in the work area
    • regular written/verbal feedback
    • private, quiet space to rest during a break



Requesting Accommodations at Your Workplace

Though the ADA, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations at your workplace to help you perform your job duties (see “Know Your Rights as an Employee”). To request an accommodation:


  • Ask your employer’s HR department how to request an accommodation
  • Decide what type of accommodations you need & be ready to explain how they will help you do your job
  • Put your request in writing
  • Talk with your treatment provider (therapist, psychiatrist, etc.) to see if they can provide documentation
  • Take notes and keep a written record of any conversations you have with your employer (i.e. keep copies of emails and forms). 
  • Know that once you submit your request, your employer is required to talk with you about possible accommodations. 



Taking a Leave of Absence from Work

Sometimes, you may need to take off multiple weeks in order to cope with depression.


  • The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that allows you to take off up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the event of an illness (or to care for a sick family member), while preserving your job and benefits.
  • The caveats to FMLA:
    • FMLA applies to employers with more than 50 employees
    • You must work a minimum of 12 months for the same employer to quality
    • If you are denied FMLA, contact the Department of Labor to file a complaint. 


SOURCE: NAMI, U.S. Dept of Labor

What to Do if You've Experienced Discrimination

If you feel like you’ve been discriminated against because of you’re depression, there are a number of actions you can take:




Looking for Work

Looking for work while dealing with depression can be incredibly difficult. Below are a few tips for navigating the process.

Treat Job Hunting Like a Job

Not having scheduled time can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and disconnection. Try to create structure for yourself by setting office hours for searching for jobs and creating deadlines to work more efficiently. Make sure to give yourself frequent breaks to recharge, such as a walk outside or a call with a family member. 

Set Some Achievable Goals

Research has shown that setting and reaching goals has a strong inverse relationship with depression. Set small, achievable goals, such as sending out X number of cover letters or even something unrelated, such as learning a new song on the piano. Small wins can make you feel much better about yourself.

Stay Busy with Different Activities

It can be very tempting to stay in bed all day when you’re unemployed and depressed. After all, your former job was likely a large motivator in getting you out of bed each morning. Though you may not feel up for it, this could be a wonderful opportunity to learn a new hobby or volunteer at an organization you care about, in addition to your job search. Not only can you gain new skills and a greater sense of fulfillment, but staying busy can help ease some of your symptoms of depression as well.

Build a Support System

Being out of work and clinically depressed can make the hard days seem impossible sometimes. Looking for a job requires stamina and energy, and a strong support network can help you so you don’t give up. Friends and family can also remind you that you are not alone throughout this process. Make sure you reach out to your support network a lot during the job search process. 

Stay Organized

Depression brain can make it so that your memory isn’t the most reliable. Try to stay organized by tracking information like place you’re considering applying, where you’ve applied, what the outcomes have been, etc. so that you don’t have to rely on your memory alone for all the information. 

Know Your Rights

You are not required to disclose your mental illness(es) with prospective employers. The Americans with Disabilities Act considers clinical depression a protected disability, which means you can’t be discriminated against because of your depression.


SOURCES: NYTimes, TheMuse

Currently Unemployed & Unable to Work

In some instances, there may be periods of time when working becomes so difficult that maintaining employment isn’t possible. These times are incredibly difficult, but you can get through them. Reach out to friends and family for help, and look into the following national , which provide monthly income and health insurance for people who can’t work: 

Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI)

To qualify for SSDI you must have an impairment that prevents you from working for at least 12 months and you must have worked & paid into the Social Security program for a least 5 of the last 10 years.  To apply, you can go in-person to any Social Security office or file an application online here.


Things to keep in mind:


  • Your spouse and children in high school and younger can also receive your SSDI benefits
  • After 24 months on SSDI, you are eligible for Medicare benefits
  • You may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, too



Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

To qualify for SSI benefits, you must have an impairment that prevents you from working on a regular basis. Additionally, you must have a very low income and less than $2000 in assets.


Things to keep in mind:


  • Children can also qualify for SSI benefits if they have an impairment
  • A couple may not have more than $3000 in assets
  • Depending on your state, you may also receive a monthly supplement from the state
  • You are eligible for Medicaid coverage



Did you know...

Text on this page can be read to you!

Let’s face it – depression can make reading really difficult. That’s why we’ve tried to make this website as accessible as possible – no long paragraphs, and text-to-speech capabilities. Simply highlight the text you want to read and press the play button.*

*if you are using text-to-speech on a mobile phone, make sure the sound is on