• Sahar Abdulaziz, MS

Depression And Anxiety in THE WORKPLACE

Many extenuating factors come into play when someone decides on whether or not to disclose the existence of an illness to others. For the most part, the more comfortable someone is about his or her disease and symptoms, the more others will be too. Funny how that works, but it’s true. –If it’s not a big issue for the sufferer, it usually isn’t much for others. However, despite the fact that revealing will depend on how at ease a person is with their disorder, one must still practice caution and weigh the risks involved when deciding to tell, especially if we are discussing whether or not to disclose about the complex issues surrounding depression and anxiety disorders in the workplace.

“Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, following only family crisis and stress.” 1. [Employee Assistance Professionals Association 1996 Survey]

It is important to remember, mood and anxiety disorders are not apparent in a person’s outward appearance, –the symptoms are contained from within, so a person can look “perfectly fine” on the outside while inside they are “feeling awful", and as a result of this "seemingly contradictory duality, persons with chronic illness often suffer in their own personal silence”, and this is because unfortunately, for too many people, the underlying shame of having a mental disorder is too much to admit. This can be especially so when dealing with issues surrounding employment, providing an income for the family, and making a stable living. For those struggling to live with a severe mood or anxiety disorder, steady or even part time employment may no longer be an option, so on top of all the other accumulated concerns, throw a dose of massive guilt into the already cumbersome and difficult mix as well.

Initially, most people suffering with a mood disorder are not willing to open themselves up to the public where there is potential to be misjudged, stigmatized, and/or ridiculed. Instead, they will often opt to keep the existence of their illness a secret, doing what they can to maintain and mask their health, and hiding their symptoms from outside view and acknowledgment, –And for some, that line of defense may very well work, for a while – or until the intrusive and debilitating pain of these illnesses becomes exceedingly disruptive and sometimes even crippling. Now, under these kinds of circumstances, any health challenge can have the potential to impact the working environment, but for someone who has not yet disclosed their illness, this situation can turn into a disruptive and tricky predicament, particularly if all of a sudden there are unpredictable call outs or frequent absences.

For others, they would rather try masking their pain and other often seriously debilitating symptoms for as long as possible so as not to risk losing their jobs, not wanting to put their employment or reputation at risk, while remaining constantly frightened and unsure of how they will be viewed by their peers or treated by management. “Often times a depressed employee will not seek treatment because they fear the affect it will have on their job, and they are concerned about confidentiality.”

A. []

Jan W. knows this all too well. She had to cease working because of her depression and anxiety disorders and for her, this change was terribly difficult. "I sometimes still struggle with it,” she explains. “I’ll see an ad in the newspaper and know I could do the job if only I wasn’t sick. I did try to go back to work briefly before my disability status was approved, but I was only able to work about five hours per week. That in itself was very depressing!”

To add to her grief, it took over two years for Jan W. to be approved for disability, a system she had contributed to all her working life, despite her doctors all agreeing that she was physically unable to work. “It was extremely stressful, emotionally and financially. I had no income until I decided to draw from my investment accounts; I had to pay taxes and penalties on all of that. Then I was without medical insurance for over a year.” *[But You LOOK Just Fine, Abdulaziz/Sveilich]

“Marty W. went to school to become a licensed practical nurse but because of her mood disorder, she soon had to give that dream up, subsequently finding work in a factory to make ends meet until her pain became so debilitating that she called in sick too often and eventually terminated. “I had never been fired before in my life, so this was very hard for me…I have feelings of grief about my inability to fulfill my goals and aspirations I had for my life due to chronic illness. I feel like I failed in my life. This causes a lot of grief, feelings of worthlessness, and humiliation.” *[But You LOOK Just Fine, Abdulaziz/Sveilich]

But depression is not new to the workplace. As a matter of fact, “the annual economic cost of depression in 1995 was $600 per depressed worker. Nearly one-third of these costs are for treatment, and 72% are costs related to absenteeism and lost productivity at work.” 2. [Conti DJ, Burton, WN. Economic Impact of Depression in a Workplace. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine. 1994; 36:983-988.] Therefore for anyone wishing to disclose, it becomes imperative to make a plan and the only way to successfully do that is to know and understand your legal rights. For example, “Under the American Disabilities Act, employers must make reasonable accommodations for an employee suffering from major depression, barring “undue hardship” to the company.” B. []

Knowing your rights becomes imperative, and once familiarized with the employment laws concerning disabilities, a private discussion with a supervisor would probably be the next best step. This can be tricky because although legally one does not have to specify what type of health challenge they have or whether or not it is physical or mental, one should never lie either. A person can simply explain that the personal challenges being experienced will at times be so severe that it will cause them to unexpectedly call out or miss work, but that they are under treatment and will do everything in their power not to let their illness impact their ability to do the job whenever possible.

Most supervisors and managers will appreciate the heads up and empathize, and will be more than supportive, including understanding the need to practice discretion about anything specific which was shared. However, sadly, those in management that continue to refuse to follow the rules will need to be reminded and made to adhere to the laws under the American Disabilities Act. But for those already in the throws of suffering, this additional fight should not have to happen, but luckily, help is out there – if you know where to look. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends employers implement health-related services for depression. These include Employee Assistance Programs that offer counseling to workers with depression, and training to help managers better recognize the signs and symptoms.” B. []

While depression and anxiety disorders can be devastatingly intrusive, it is important to also remember to never to define oneself as the disorder. Simply put, – You are not anxiety, you are not depression, you are not obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress, –Yes, you suffer from a debilitating illnesses and you have this condition, but the illness itself does not define you. You are not the disorder. It is simply a chemical imbalance and an illness like any other, and those suffering must be given the same respect and assistance in the workplace as anyone else battling their disease or physical limitations, whether they are easily concealed or not.

Never give up on yourself.

Help is available.

You are not alone.


*But You LOOK Just Fine, Unmasking Depression, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Abdulaziz & Sveilich 2013


  1. Employee Assistance Professionals Association 1996 Survey

  2. Conti DJ, Burton, WN. Economic Impact of Depression in a Workplace. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine. 1994; 36:983-988.

B. Depression in the Workplace By Dr. Sanjay Gupta


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