Occupational / Educational

Discover resources for working and going to school with depression


Work and depression often don’t mix – it can be incredibly difficult to perform your best (or at all) at work while experiencing symptoms of depression. Find resources below for wherever you’re at- currently employed and trying to make it through, going through the job hunt while depressed, or unable work because of depression. Wherever you’re at, you are not alone. 

Currently Employed - Navigating the Workplace

Depression can make going to work feel nearly impossible, but there are some ways making things more manageable. Make sure to read up on various tips for working with depression, and know your rights as far as what protections you’re entitled to as an employee 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 your depression, there are a number of actions you can take:


Looking for Work

Being out of a job and living with depression is a really tough situation to be in. Congratulate yourself for taking steps to look for a job and know that you are more than your career. Below are a few tips for navigating the job search process while living with depression.

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 or treatment is so intense that maintaining employment isn’t possible. These times are incredibly difficult, but you can get through them. Reach out to friends, family and your care team 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




Experiencing depression while in college can be a scary and lonely experience. Many students are far away from their support networks and may feel stress from increased academic workloads. Find resources below for wherever you are in your college journey: making the transition to college if your depression is already known, managing depression in college, requesting accommodations from the school, or taking a leave of absence if things get really tough. 

Transitioning to College with Depression

Transitioning from high school to college can be a big challenge, but especially for those of us living with depression. Having a plan in place for how to manage depression is an essential part of setting yourself up for success. 

Find Out What Mental Health Services Are Offered at Your School

Research what mental health services (if any) are available to students. For those that offer services, some important questions to ask the counseling center include: 

  • How many individual sessions are available per student and at what cost?
  • How long is the typical wait for an individual session?
  • Are there emergency or walk-in hours?
  • Is there a psychiatrist on campus that students have access to? If not, do they make referrals to psychiatrists in the community?
  • What (if any) group therapies are offered?


Figure Out The Five W's

Make a plan that consists of the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, & Why

  • Who: decide if you’ll continue to work with your current providers (and how- in-person, via telehealth, etc.) or if you’ll need to find new providers. Talk to your school, insurance provider, or go to the Care Access page for help finding a mental health provider. 
  • What:  Think about what you will you do to help maintain your wellness. Therapy & medication? Mood-tracking apps? Group therapy? Support groups? Specific coping skills?
  • When: Figure out how often you will meet with members of your mental health team
  • Where: Determine how you will travel to appointments – especially if the appointment is located far from where you live. Also, if you take medication, find the nearest pharmacy where you can pick up your meds. 
  • Why: Remind yourself why it’s important to maintain your health and wellness, especially in college when it is easy to let your wellness fall by the wayside. 

SOURCE: Mental Health America

Managing Depression in College

Stay Connected

You don’t have to deal with depression alone while in college. Staying connected to others can help you feel less isolated. 

    • Keep in touch with friends and family. Stay connected to friends and family from home that you normally go to when you’re feeling low. Maintaining those important relationships is key to ensuring you have people to turn to during a depressive episode. Schedule a regular time each week to talk over the phone or video chat, or see them in-person if you live close enough. 
    • Talk to friends on-campus: It’s definitely scary to open up to new people about your depression, but know that mental health diagnoses are actually quite common. According to The Center for Collegiate and Mental Health, nearly half of college students have attended counseling for mental health concerns (1). It’s likely that whoever you talk to either struggles with a mental illness or knows someone who does.
    • Consider joining a support group or mental health club.

      Support groups can be a great way to get support and meet new friends. Many college counseling centers offer support groups, and Mental Health America has a comprehensive listing of support groups you could attend. Mental health advocacy and awareness student clubs on campus can also be a great way to meet others struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. Active Minds is a popular student club that promotes mental health awareness on campuses. 

  1. Center for Collegiate and Mental Health. (2015, January). 2014 Annual Report. (Publication No. STA 15-30).

SOURCE: Mental Health America

Monitor Symptoms

Keeping a short daily record of symptoms can help you see if symptoms are getting worse. College can be chaotic and can make it hard to notice changes in your habits (i.e. sleeping or eating patterns) and corresponding changes in mood. Don’t wait to seek help when/if your mood gets consistently worse. You can use a paper journal or notebook to track your mood, or apps such as Daylio or Moodily.



Maintain Healthy Habits
  • Try to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and get between 7-9 hours of sleep/night. Definitely easier said than done, but maintaining these healthy habits can boost your mood and increase energy. (Having trouble finding the energy/motivation to exercise? Click here for ideas. Having difficulty making food? Click here for easy “depression-friendly” recipes.)
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs is also another very important healthy habit. While in the short term, alcohol and drugs might provide you with a mood boost, they can have very poor effects on mood in the longer term and are not effective ways to cope with stress. Try your best to limit or avoid use of mood-altering drugs/alcohol. 



Reduce Academic Stress

Make your life easier by using study groups, tutors, the campus writing center, and TAs in order to get the support you need in order to succeed in class. See if your college offers support with time management or study skills so you can study most effectively (Google “[Your School’s Name] + Academic Support Services” to see what they offer).



Requesting Accommodations

If you think you might need extra help from the school in order to do your best in classes, try to ask your school for accommodations ASAP before you face any serious challenges, if possible. 

What Kind of Accommodations Can I Request?

 The accommodations you request depend on your specific needs and what your school is able to provide. The following list can give you ideas for what types of accommodations you can ask for: 

    • Getting priority registration
    • Reducing course load
    • Substituting one course for another
    • Allowing note takers and recording devices
    • Being able to work from home
    • Getting extended time for testing and/or deadlines for assignments
    • Receiving tutoring or study skills training
    • Being able to take exams in an individual room
    • Being able to change rooms or roommates
How to Ask for Accommodations

To receive accommodations, you will need to :

    • Identify what types of accommodations you’ll need. (FYI, if you currently receive special education services, your high school’s IDEA-mandated transition planning will help you put together a list of needs). 
    • Register with the disability resource office. Often, the disability office can offer a selection of accommodations for you to choose from. 
    • Provide documentation. The disability resource center will ask you to document that you have depression. From your provider, you’ll likely need: 
      • Documentation showing your diagnosis
      • Types of accommodations that have worked for you in the past/ that you anticipate needing in college
      • How your depression can impact your success in college


After you request specific accommodations, the school may approve the request or offer an alternative accommodation if it makes more sense. Work together with your school to get the support you need. If an accommodation isn’t working for you, contact the disability office ASAP to try to find a better support.


Taking a Leave of Absence From College

Sometimes, depression can get so bad that taking a leave of absence from school is necessary in order to get treatment and address symptoms. If you’re considering taking a leave of absence, take the following into consideration: 

    • The policy at your school: contact the disability office or your academic advisor to inquire about the policy for taking a leave, what documentation you’ll need to provide and how long you are able to take a leave for
    • Class credits: You might lose your class credit or have to take incompletes and finish up your classes at a later time. You can also ask to retroactively withdraw from your classes if your grades suffered in the time leading up to your leave. Under the ADA, this is considered a reasonable accommodation. 
    • Financial aid: You may need to ask the financial aid office about whether or not you’ll need to repay your loans right away or if you’ll be given a grace period. Also, ask if any of your tuition could be refunded.
    • Returning to school: Returning to school requires college officials to sign off on your return. They usually consider how you managed your academic and medical affairs prior to the leave, your application essays, and medical documentation from your providers. Check with your academic advisor and/or the dean of students office to better understand this process. 

Can a School Require Me to Take a Leave?

Short answer: yes. A college can ask you to leave if they can show that there’s a clear risk you might harm yourself or someone else. If you believe your school is mistaken, seek legal advice. You can also consider filing a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.