Although it can be challenging to manage a job with depression, people can ask their employer to make reasonable workplace accommodations that may help. Lifestyle changes and treatment can also be useful.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) can affect work in various ways. Career management may entail choosing a less stressful job or asking an employer for accommodations such as flexible working hours and working from home.

Additionally, healthy lifestyle practices may have a positive effect on all areas of life, including work. However, these can be challenging for people with depression. Therefore, seeking treatment, attending therapy, and getting support are all essential elements of managing one’s career and mental health.

Keep reading to learn how MDD affects work, careers to consider, whether to disclose the condition to an employer, workplace accommodations, management tips, and when to contact a doctor. We also include personal stories from entrepreneur and professor Gillian Tietz and retired minister Brian Sloan.

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 21 million adults in the United States have experienced at least one episode of major depression. This equates to about 8.3% of the country’s adult population.

Untreated MDD can significantly affect a person’s daily life, and it can also affect work performance. It plays a role in the following:

  • absenteeism
  • a lack of engagement while present at work
  • adverse effects on performance, including:
    • time management
    • social interactions
    • decision making
    • focus
    • communication

Additionally, an older 2007 research article notes that MDD is associated with rates of disability, reduces productivity, and may lead to early retirement.

Gillian’s story: My depression makes it hard to focus at work

My main depression symptoms are very low energy and trouble focusing. Most things feel like climbing a big mountain so it makes it challenging to do anything.

When I’m low energy and struggle to focus I have difficulty putting my best into my work. I’ve learned to work with it and accept myself instead of beating myself up, and that helps the mood pass sooner.

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Learn more about MDD.

Some careers involve mood-boosting benefits, which could be advantageous for a person with depression.

People can also aim to choose careers that accommodate their preferences. For example, if someone feels stressed when working in a job that entails much social interaction, they may feel more comfortable in a career with less social expectation or that allows working from home.

Gillian’s story: Being self-employed is both good and bad for my depression

I work for myself, which makes it both easier and harder to manage my depression. There’s no one holding me accountable for my work, no times I’m supposed to be in the office (there’s also no office to go to!), and no coworkers to chat with, but I am very passionate about my work and I feel like it matters.

My depression loves to keep me home in my pajamas for extended periods of time and that is easy for me to do as an entrepreneur. I’m also an adjunct chemistry professor and I’ve found that teaching really helps because it makes me get out of my house at specific times.

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Jobs may also involve doing something that is personally meaningful or incorporates a hobby somebody already enjoys.

Below are some examples of careers to consider:

  • Landscaper: This is a pleasant job in an outdoor setting. It also offers much exposure to sunlight, which a 2023 review indicates has a positive effect on depression.
  • Dog walker: A 2021 study suggests that spending time with dogs may have mood-enhancing effects, as it found that dog owners had lower rates of depression than people who do not own dogs. Dog walking also is a source of exercise, which may decrease the risk of depression.
  • Park ranger: This involves spending time in the outdoors, as well as opportunities for physical activity. The work settings are national and regional parks, forests, and reserves, all of which are peaceful and scenic.
  • Librarian: This is a low stress job in a quiet environment. It requires considerable education but may be appealing to a book lover.
  • Freelancer: If people have marketable skills, such as writing or graphic designing, freelancing offers schedule flexibility and the opportunity to work from home.
  • Postal worker: Although this job entails sorting mail at the beginning of the workday, it offers plenty of alone time. This position also tends to pay well.

Brian’s story: I felt guilty about being depressed

As a longterm full-time ordained member of the clergy, I felt that I should be able to fix myself since helping others had been a big part of my life.

Until I got some individual counseling for myself, I actually had a sense of guilt about being depressed.

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Brian’s story: My supervisor supported me

In this particular situation, my immediate supervisor, who was the senior pastor, noticed that I seemed to be down and I had not been the outgoing person that I normally was as a part of our ministerial team.

Fortunately, he was a very experienced and caring pastor, and he asked me if perhaps I was dealing with any depression. I admitted to him that I probably was. He had tremendous compassion to try to help me through it.

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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person generally does not need to tell their employer about their mental health unless they are asking for workplace accommodations.

Whether or not a person wants to disclose their mental health status is their decision. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against someone with mental health issues.

That said, if people have concerns about the possibility of encountering stigma, they may wish to keep their condition private.

Gillian’s story: I chose to keep my mental health status private

Never. When I worked a 9-5 job I always believed that sharing about my struggles would negatively impact my job. As someone who also struggled with addiction, I believed the stigma and it made me keep my mental health private.

At my last job before transitioning to self-employment, I shared a soft spot I developed from previous work experiences. I thought sharing would help us work better together, but actually, my employer made assumptions that weren’t true about what I shared and then pushed that exact same button multiple times.

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Gillian’s story: Too much working from home makes my depression worse

Working from home makes my depression worse if I do it too much — it makes it easier to retreat into my low mood. I think a balance with 2–3 days of working out of the house is the most helpful for me. It’s important to be around real people, even if you don’t want to.

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The ADA does not insist employers make work accommodations for employees with a disability that presents an undue hardship. However, it does mandate that they make reasonable accommodations.

Examples of these accommodations may include:

  • Schedule flexibility: This may involve scheduling work around doctor appointments or permitting a part-time schedule until a person’s medication helps manage their symptoms.
  • Reduction of distractions: This may entail a quieter work environment and frequent reminders of task due dates. It may also include allowing home working, if possible.
  • Changes in supervision style: Generally, the ADA does not require an employer to change a supervisor, but it may necessitate modifying their leadership style. For instance, an individual may benefit from more structured supervision or a supervisor who is more supportive and understanding.

Gillian’s story: Daily movement and nutritious food are good for my mental health

Daily walking in the morning is the most important thing for my mental health. We moved recently to a house that has a walking path and a lake behind it, so whenever I feel my mood dipping I go do a loop on the walking path and call my mom or a friend.

I’ve noticed that my nutrition plays a big role in my mood, so I’m careful not to eat too much processed food or sugar because it makes me sluggish and allows the low mood to creep back in.

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Healthy lifestyle practices may have a positive effect on all areas of life, including mental wellness and work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a person can consider the following practices alongside work-related tips as management strategies:

Brian’s story: Seeing a mental health professional helped my depression

When I returned to work, I continued to follow-up monthly with a mental health professional. I learned that no matter what your occupation might be, even as a minister, you need to be able to share any mental health struggles.

I began to learn that we should be proactive to overcome the stigma that can come with mental health issues such as these. Depression is no respecter of persons and it can attack the most unsuspecting.

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If a person has symptoms of depression that linger or their symptoms are affecting their daily life, they may consider contacting a mental health professional. The earlier treatment starts, the more effective it is.

However, if a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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MDD can lead to work absenteeism and have an adverse effect on performance.

Managing a career with MDD may include asking for reasonable workplace accommodations. This may involve several areas, such as schedule flexibility, removal of distractions, and a change in a supervisor’s style.

Tips may entail engaging in lifestyle practices that reduce stress and foster improved physical and mental health. It is also important for people to pursue work-related goals and ask for help and support when necessary.