Depression of any kind is always a challenge. Although in the modern age we are getting much better at looking after our mental health it is becoming more and more common for people to report battling with depression, and one would suspect there are still more who suffer silently. This could be as the result of a misguided belief that admitting to suffering from depression is somehow showing weakness or complaining unduly. Some people think depression will just go away, or worse, that it is self-inflicted, all in the imagination of the sufferer.
Depression can be caused by a myriad of factors. Let’s focus here on issues that might manifest themselves as depression at work. There are also a range of ways to combat this illness; rest assured there is no need to suffer in silence.
An exceptional year
Many people have had to work from home this year, the vast majority for the first time. Excessive screen time, lack of real face-to-face interaction, missing the general banter in the workplace and missing the change of scene from home-workplace can all have a cumulative effect. Some people have had to deal with the added pressure of dealing with children at home or not working in an ideal setting. So – let’s deal with this scenario first.
Screen time is directly linked to depression in the workplace. Some of us use 2, 3 or even more devices at a time. We often do not disconnect all day and that’s a real problem. Even when we do take a break (or think we do) it is likely you’ll have your mobile in your hand, so you are defeating the purpose in one way. People who work in sectors where they need to be online and / or connected on the phone have strict health and safety regulations they need to follow, and in an office or call centre this should be and is strictly reinforced. Workers must take regular breaks and if they do not take their full allocation for a break, they are equally likely to get into trouble as arriving late.
Many who have switched to using the computer as the main tool for communicating for work because of the lockdown, just don’t know about how detrimental too much time on the computer can be, and the health effects can be very real.
Disturbed sleep due to excessive screen time, and a lack of routine also create pressure on your physical and mental wellbeing. So create a routine to control your screen time and working hours.
Pressure is OK, stress is not
Stress and depression are linked too. Pressure is OK, and sometimes actually helps you get things done, metaphorically pushing water through the pipe. Stress is never OK. By definition Stress is too much pressure, which if left unchecked will break our metaphorical pipe. Success at work gives an immediate boost. Failure or the sensation that you are not doing your job well will definitely wear you down, leading to a lower feeling of self-worth and that will make you depressed. Many people suffer from stress caused by setting themselves unrealistic goals or taking on more work than they should, often by their own request. Think about what you need to do and be careful about taking on anything extra. Before you offer, think - is this attainable? If you can’t do what you say it not only looks bad on you externally, but also adds to your internal self-criticism.
What if there is just too much to do?
Do not work more when you are working from home, even if it means tasks not getting done. Set realistic objectives for work and remember that good enough is still good. If you just can’t get the work done in the available time you need to flag it up. If you just imagine ‘this is what everyone has to deal with and that is just the job,’ you are exacerbating the problem, for everyone. Speak to others and the boss. Maybe the business is growing and it is time to expand. Maybe your manager has to help you to manage your time better. That’s part of his or her job, after all.
Evaluate your environment - then accept it, improve it or change it
So – if I am honest, I would rather retire tomorrow and never work another day. Wouldn’t you? Of course that is not possible for most of us. We all have bills to pay, obligations to meet and things we want to buy for ourselves. Some people are lucky enough to work in a job they find stimulating and rewarding (“choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work another day in your life”). However, many people don’t really enjoy what they do. It is all too common for some just to accept that work is a hardship that must be endured, with no possibility of change or improvement.
So – it might be that work has just been hard recently because of an important project, or you are tired because of the new baby at home etc etc. But feeling that your work has been getting you down for years is just not right.
See the positive
A positive approach is really important, and most successful people sing the virtues of this endlessly. Eating well, exercising and avoiding too much alcohol will all contribute to a more positive outlook. Often people who have got into their head that they hate their job really burn the candle at both ends, thinking – ‘Work is going to be terrible, no matter what I do, so I might as well have that last drink / stay up late playing that game / binge-watch Netflix series. Try a different approach and you might really be surprised by the results.
When you wake up each day, ask yourself ‘what kind of day do I want to have today?’. Acknowledging and thinking about positive emotions before you start the day can really help to manifest these as you go about your business. There are many short morning meditations available for free online which can help start your day in a more positive way. Try this short morning meditation, guided by Deepak Chopra.
Evaluate the situation
It can also help to do this on an evening, being honest and evaluating each day. Ask yourself ‘What was good about today? What was not so good?’ Keep a note if you want to and look back after a few weeks or months. If you have been honest with yourself and stopped making your life harder, but still find you are unhappy at work more that not, you may have to take some further action.
If you are finding work so difficult that it is depressing you then you seriously need to evaluate why this is the case. Work out how you can improve the situation. Are you working late every night? You shouldn’t be. Are you travelling for 3 hours every day to get to and from work? That’s 15 hours a week, or 60 hours every 4 weeks – that’s an extra week and a half’s work every month. This is just another type of stress you do not need and even though some people argue they enjoy the ‘winding down time’ surely they would prefer spending more time at home, in the gym or doing just about anything else. Could you negotiate working from home for a couple of days a month. Post-Covid lockdown #1 is definitely the best time to suggest it.
Making the necessary changes
Speak to your boss or someone in HR about how you feel and what can be done about it. You might feel you are stuck in an impossible situation and usually that is just not true. Sure – you might have to cut your cloth accordingly after changing jobs for something with better conditions, but the improvement in your state of mind, and therefore quality of life, could be so beneficial that there is really no argument. There is nothing more important than your health. You always have a choice, and knowing that in itself can be a very useful tool.
Make an effort to make friends at work
If you can - make friends: it’s important. A workplace can be a lonely place without someone to chew the fat with during a coffee break, and sometimes that little bit of support is just what you need to get you through the day. On the other hand, make sure your workmates aren’t jerks. If you feel that your workmates are making your job harder, perhaps by creating a negative atmosphere, laziness, incompetence or bullying speak up for yourself. If you find the situation is a lost cause, remove yourself from it. Sometimes the smartest thing to do it get off a sinking ship. Don’t let negative or impossible situations get you down.
Getting professional help
So, I have mentioned evaluating the circumstances and looking for reasons of what you can be getting depressed. There are of course many more reasons why people get depressed. It can be a vicious circle which is really difficult to get out of. It is extremely important to speak to a professional, and the first port of call should be your family doctor. Mental health is taken just as seriously as physical health and thankfully nowadays the link between the two is clear. In Spain your family doctor will need to recommend you to a specialist, and generally this happens quickly.
This specialist would usually be a psychologist and they would decide which type of medical professional for you to continue with. Often anti-depressants are recommended (in Spain your family doctor cannot prescribe anti-depressants, hence the need for a mental health specialist referral before getting them). Sometimes people just need to little bit of help to lift their mood to a bearable level so that can try to manage the day and hopefully be able to help themselves.
Medication can definitely help, although as I mentioned earlier you still might need to tackle the root cause of the problem. With state health care this process would take longer than though the private health insurance system, but you do have the right to treatment including therapy. If your Spanish is not very good though you might struggle, as there is no provision for language in the process. If you go private or find your own treatment you would of course be able to choose to receive treatment in your mother tongue. Your employer may have a health program which might have better options than the Natlional Health offer.
Rights at work
If you require time away from work you can be given permission by any doctor who is helping you. You may or may not decide to explain exactly what the problem is to your work. You have the right to keep your private information private. However, as we said above, if it might be your work that is making you depressed, then you will need to deal with the root cause. Remember that if you are signed off for an extended period your salary is reduced to statutory sick pay after a set amount of weeks. Also, you may not be eligible for sick leave from your job if you are still in a trial period or temporary contract.
I’m going to leave you with a summary of the key points.
- Remember that it is in your employer’s interests for you to be comfortable, content and hopefully happy in your workplace. You will be more productive and take less time off sick. If you are happy at work the good vibes will lift morale of the entire team. Speak to your boss, other staff members and make suggestions on how things can improve. Remember – if you don’t ask you don’t get.
- Look at external factors and take responsibility for the making your day-to-day more manageable. It is amazing how much a little exercise and cutting out too many late nights or mid-week drinks can transform your outlook on life.
- If fundamental things about the job are unacceptable to you and you cannot change the way you feel about them, it is time for a change. But before you do – think about what is so bad about your current job, and decide what you need to avoid in your new job or career path.
- Lastly, and most importantly – speak to others about how you feel and ask for help if you need it. If you had a broken leg you would go to the hospital. Depression is a real, tangible illness, and you might need to speak to a doctor and follow the process to help you get back on top.
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