Depression is the world’s most common mental health issue, and it is one that affects twice as many women as men: Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year, and one in eight American women will develop depression at some point during their lifetime.
Depression is so common, that even if you don’t (or haven’t yet) suffered from depression yourself, it is highly likely that you will have friends or loved ones who have. And the statistical likelihood is that if you work in a medium or large company, at least one person working alongside you will have some experience of depression.
Despite this, there is still a significant stigma associated with suffering from mental health problems in this country. When depression is severe it can feel like you are standing at the bottom of a dark tunnel that you can’t escape from, and many women suffering from depression give up their jobs, both because they feel unable to discuss their illness with their employers, and because they often feel unable to get up and go to work at all.
Dealing with Stigma and Misinformation
The stigma associated with suffering from mental health problems is significant, largely because many people aren’t fully educated about what having or overcoming depression (or any other kind of mental health issue) actually means, and therefore they attribute any negative characteristics as being part of the illness, using this as an incorrect reason to justify not employing, or continuing to employ, someone who is struggling with mental health problems.
Many depressed employees don’t want to be marginalised by their employers, considered to be weak and treated differently, or worse still, lose their jobs. But stigma and lack of education means these things happen all too often.
If you have left the work force (either voluntarily or as the result of a management decision) because you suffer from depression, then the good news is this doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. It is important to remember that depression is a completely treatable condition, and choosing to leave the workforce because you are experiencing depression doesn’t mean you can’t return and work again once you are feeling emotionally stronger and more able.
The best way to overcome the stigma that surrounds mental health issues is to talk about them: when people realise that depression is all around them, and that it affects ordinary people just like them, they will find discrimination much more difficult.
It’s also important to note that, if you work in a company that employs 15 or more people, your employee cannot legally discriminate against you on the basis of your mental health: The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against people with serious health problems (including depression), and it requires them to accommodate disabled employees.
In order to be protected by this law, however, it is important that you disclose the nature of your illness to your employer: this can be scary and daunting, but it means taking the plunge and telling your employer that you are struggling with depression. Of course, once you have overcome your depression there is no need to disclose this to anyone within your workplace unless you wish to, and if you would prefer not to have to battle the stigma of a condition you no longer suffer with, you can simply keep that information to yourself.
Getting Back to Work
Getting back to work gives you something to focus your mind and attention on, and keeping busy and engaging with people in this way (in conjunction with continuing to take your medication or attend your therapy as prescribed) can actually help to lift your mood and decrease your feelings of depression.
Feeling like a productive member of the workforce who is contributing to society is good for your mental health and overall wellbeing, and if you found that the stress and pressure of your career was a factor that added to your depression that remember that it’s never too late to retrain, start again, and find a job that you really love. Getting back to work shouldn’t be seen as a hurdle, but as an opportunity to rebuild your life and show the world what you can really do.