Working from home (WFH) became essential for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was common to continue WFH following the lockdown. Research shows that WFH may have negative effects on mental well-being for some people, particularly those with existing mental health conditions.

Anyone who feels as though they are experiencing mental health symptoms as a result of WFH should speak with a healthcare professional, who can recommend coping strategies, medical treatments, or both.

In this article, we look at research from the past couple of years investigating whether there is a connection between WFH and depression.

We also list some factors that may influence a person’s mental well-being while WFH and offer strategies for coping with WFH struggles. Finally, we offer advice on when to see a doctor about symptoms of depression.

A person holding glasses with their laptop on their lapShare on Pinterest
Irina Efremova/Stocksy

Research suggests that there may be a connection between WFH and depression. This association appears to be stronger for people with existing mental health conditions.

A 2022 study found that employees who experienced a reduction in their well-being due to WFH were more likely to have an existing mental health condition. The study also found that working regular overtime exacerbated existing health issues, such as:

  • depression
  • stress
  • lack of sleep

A 2021 study had similar findings, showing that WFH was associated with a worsening of the following:

Factors associated with WFH and depression

Certain factors appear to play a role in the likelihood of WFH affecting a person’s mental health.

A 2021 study found that the following factors were associated with a decline in both physical and mental well-being while WFH during the lockdown:

  • decreased physical activity
  • a nonnutritious diet
  • being a parent or caregiver to a toddler
  • having more distractions at home
  • a lack of communication with co-workers

The results of a 2022 study suggest that stress and depression affect females and younger adults more acutely while WFH. Among females, factors that appear to increase depression include family responsibilities and conflicting work-life balance. Among people aged 16–39 years, these factors include loneliness, work uncertainty, and financial insecurity.

The relationship between WFH and mental health is complex. It is dependent on a variety of factors that may influence a person’s experience in a negative or positive way. Some of these factors include:

  • existing mental health conditions
  • home working environment
  • work hours
  • time management
  • management of boundaries between work and home life
  • parental or caregiving responsibilities
  • distractions in the home
  • connections with co-workers
  • other social connections
  • feelings of isolation
  • concerns about technology security
  • salary
  • level of physical activity
  • diet
  • gender

The research suggests a complex relationship between the factors affecting an individual’s work and personal life and the ways in which these factors may interact. For some, these interactions may increase mental well-being, whereas for others, they may cause or exacerbate mental health issues.

People who feel as though WFH negatively affects their mental health may benefit from the following:

  • taking regular breaks from work
  • maintaining a regular schedule for both work and relaxation time
  • staying in touch with colleagues regularly to combat feelings of isolation
  • exercising regularly
  • eating nutritious, well-balanced meals and snacks
  • maintaining a regular sleep schedule

Depression is a serious mental health condition that can have a significant effect on the quality of life. A person should contact a doctor or mental health professional if they have been experiencing symptoms of depression regularly for at least 2 weeks.

These symptoms include:

A doctor or mental health professional will typically treat depression with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Various types of psychotherapy are effective in treating depression, including:

Some common antidepressant medications include:

In some cases, a person may need to try different treatments or combinations of treatments to find an approach that works best for them.

The outlook for people experiencing depression due to WFH will differ depending on individual circumstances.

People who find ways to cope with any added stresses or depressive symptoms that WFH causes may find that their depression improves.

Without treatment, major depressive episodes can last for 6–12 months. Seeking treatment early for depression can improve a person’s outlook.

A person may need to try different treatment methods before finding one that works for them. Anyone who feels that an existing treatment is not working should notify their prescribing doctor, who may recommend changing the treatment plan. Possible changes include:

  • starting a medication
  • adjusting a medication dosage
  • switching to an alternative medication
  • starting talking therapy
  • changing therapists or trying a different form of talking therapy

A large body of research suggests that working from home may cause or exacerbate depression for some people. The likelihood of experiencing depression while WFH appears to be higher for those with existing mental health conditions and for females and young adults.

Certain coping strategies may help alleviate feelings of depression due to WFH. Examples include exercising regularly, maintaining a regular schedule for work and relaxation time, and keeping in touch with colleagues.

A person who experiences depression while WFH should talk with a doctor or mental health professional. Some people may require treatment in the form of talking therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Seeking treatment early for depression can improve a person’s outlook.