Health

How to Tell Your Boss About Your Depression

Statistically, you likely know someone suffering from depression, whether or not they choose to be open about it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, around one out of every 20 Americans lives with depression. As a mental health issue, depression is often misunderstood and stigmatized, and it can be especially contentious to deal with in the workplace.

Psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani has written two award-winning books on depression: "Living with Depression" and "Depression and Your Child." She offers this advice for navigating depression on the job.

ATTN: Have you found that those with depression face a stigma at work if they’re out?

Dr. Deborah Serani: It really depends and differs from person to person. For some, it may lead to greater confidence because they can be authentic about their mental illness. Sometimes, a person who has disclosed may experience understanding and support from other staff about their depression. Others, however, may find that they are being coddled at work, passed over for projects or perhaps even avoided socially. The ranges of experiences vary.

ATTN: What are the risks those who have the disease face if they must keep it in?

Dr. Deborah Serani: People still "fear" mental illness and aren’t really educated about depression. I tell those who choose not to share their depression with co-workers to remember that ignorance is often at the root of such stigmatizing comments—and to try not to take it personally.

ATTN: If someone is struggling with depression, is it effective or reasonable for them to take a “depression day,” like a sick day?

Dr. Deborah Serani: Yes. Managing an illness like depression requires a person to be mindful about moments or experiences that can be negative. To prevent a setback, it’s a great idea to rest, regroup, and return.

If someone with depression must come out to their employer, what's a good approach? Is there a conversation icebreaker?

Dr. Deborah Serani: First, it’s vital to understand what your depressive experience is like. For example, is it being managed well? Are you struggling with recovery? Do you need significant treatment to feel better? Once you determine your level of depression, then you may tell your employer that you’d like to have a moment to talk about a private matter.

  1. Begin with talking about your job performance.
  2. If it is excellent, share that your are living with depression, but that it doesn’t interfere with your work. You just wanted your employer to know and to be open about it should anything in your future well-being change.
  3. If your job performance is lacking, you can share with your employer that you are being treated for depression and that as you get better, so will your job performance. This is the time to ask for additional time to get a project done or for assistance from other staff members.
  4. If your illness is so severe that you need to ask for a medical leave to get treatment, check with your human resources department, union or employee assistance program for the best way to approach this situation before you talk with your employer.
  5. Test the water to see if your employer understands that depression is a neuropsychobiological illness—not a result of laziness, weak character, or not trying hard enough.
  6. Once you’ve disclosed, check back with your employer in a few days to see how he or she is doing with your news. This gives you an opportunity to talk about things further if it’s necessary.

ATTN: 
When depression flares up, i.e. on a "bad day," what are a few healthy ideas for keeping someone on the job focused?

Dr. Deborah Serani: The illness of depression is best fought with positive thinking and with positive actions. So, if a bad day is happening, counter it with good thoughts: "Tomorrow is another day." "A bad day is not a bad life." Reframe the day with positive behaviors: Take a break. Go outside. Meditate at your desk. Limit your persistence on a task to another day when your mind is less negative.

Resources.

For quick references on workers’ rights regarding depression, Dr. Serani recommends the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Disabilities Act.