Told my boss I'm depressed, what now?
June 14, 2016 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Since December I have been struggling with depression (and increasing anxiety). I told my boss today and now I'm freaking out and don't know what to do.

I started a new job in January- it's my dream job, I love everything about it. Except I feel like a light's been turned off inside me and it's been getting harder and harder to keep my head above water.

My boss gave me some feedback today that he felt like I wasn't showing enough drive, my heart wasn't in it and I'd lost my spark, and asked why.

Over the last few days I had been weighing up whether to tell him I've been getting treatment for depression, and wanting to avoid it as I didn't want him to feel responsible for my issues, but I told him today. I cried, he hugged me. He was very nice (albeit uncomfortable).

He said all the right things and said it was just the same as having a physical injury.

But now I'm freaking out that he thinks I'm a sap, or lying to cover myself for poor performance.

- Did I do the right thing?
- Should I tell him I understand if he has to let me go?
- Should I follow up with him in another way today?
- He asked me what we should do and I said I didn't know- what can I do/ask for from work to help me get over this quickly and start performing at the level I need to be at?
- How do I manage depression at work? How do I come back from this and prove to my boss I'm not a dead weight? Especially when I feel exactly like a dead weight.

I'm in the UK so I can't get fired for being depressed, but I'm in sales and it would be easy for them to get rid of me if they wanted to because I'm not hitting my numbers.

We're a small company so don't have an official HR channel. However, it's a very value driven company and it is currently in the process of creating an inclusive diversity and inclusion policy.

In case it matters I've Have had low points in the past but not to this extent. Triggered by a breakup in December. My symptoms are panic attacks, suicidal feelings and feelings of self loathing and despair, crying a lot, difficulty concentrating or motivating myself, feeling anxious in social settings, avoiding friends and struggling to keep up with day to day tasks.

I feel incredibly ashamed for feeling this way, and horrified that my boss might think I'm a flake or a wimp.
posted by Dwardles to Human Relations (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Does your workplace have policies regarding disability accommodations, temporarily reduced hours/workload or short term sick leave?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:29 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, but I think they would be open to something like this as diversity and inclusion is a big priority (although I don't think they'd be thrilled about doing this for someone so new)
posted by Dwardles at 8:33 AM on June 14, 2016

Yes, I'm in therapy and am going to get a prescription for medication tomorrow.
posted by Dwardles at 8:37 AM on June 14, 2016

Two ideas; you can decide if they make sense for you:

1) Get a small group of co-workers together to take a short mid-day walk outside every day. Moving around, socializing, and sunshine can all help with depression, and your co-workers will benefit from this stuff too. Plus, co-workers spending time together is good for the company.

2) If you want to reassure your boss that this isn't a permanent condition, you could mention to him that there was a triggering event.

3) Just saw that you're getting medication tomorrow - great! Again, this is your decision, but your boss might want to know that there's yet another reason to think you might be getting better soon.
posted by amtho at 8:39 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sorry, seem to have missed a lot of important info in my question. Boss knows I'm in therapy, knows I'm going to get on meds, and knows there was a triggering event.
posted by Dwardles at 8:48 AM on June 14, 2016

That's great! It sounds like you've done really well with a difficult conversation. You can focus on yourself more.

Maybe, since your boss knows, you'll feel comfortable even confiding in a coworker, if there's a nice one to hand?

One never knows if one has really done the "right" thing. Just do the best you can. If you know you've done the best you can -- and give yourself allowances for having feelings, please -- then you can let yourself be content.
posted by amtho at 8:58 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Alison Green, who writes the excellent and oft-recommended Ask A Manager blog, recently wrote an article about How to Talk to Your Boss About Mental Health Issues that you might find useful (it does have some US-centric stuff).

One thing that she does advise, though, is having something specific to request - what would help? Do you need extra time off? Is there a specific task that is especially difficult for you right now?

Maybe you were telling him so that he could be aware that you know that you're not currently working at 100% but that you hope/expect to be better soon? If so, that's OK too! But it would probably help your boss if you clarified that.
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you did the right thing here - I don't think this is ALWAYS the right thing to do, but in your case it sounds like your boss is supportive and wants to work with you.

In terms of things to ask for to help support you, I think you could ask for flexible scheduling so that you can attend any appointments that might occur during business hours (I know I found it much easier to schedule therapy appointments during the work day as opposed to before/after/weekends since those are of course the times everyone wants.) If you can take an early/late lunch and/or make up time elsewhere in the schedule, that can be really helpful. Additionally, if you feel like some time off would be helpful, you could ask for this -- I'm not as familiar with UK law as to whether they have something like FMLA in the U.S. but certainly you could ask your boss about whether taking a couple of weeks to just deal with this would be a possibility (if that would be helpful to you). Finally, if you're not sure what to ask for, it may be helpful to discuss this with your doctor and/or therapist to see what they might suggest.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:07 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hang in there. The medication will help. I think you're having some thought distortions related to the depression and expecting the worst because of how your brain is right now. I've been through the same sort of thing. It sounds like your boss wants to keep you and is willing to ride out your illness.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 9:38 AM on June 14, 2016

But now I'm freaking out that he thinks I'm a sap, or lying to cover myself for poor performance.

This is the depression talking. Depression lies. Take your boss's word at face value. You have a kind and understanding boss.

Did I do the right thing?

I think you did. I wouldn't necessarily advise everyone who has depression to disclose it to their employer, but when one has a kind and understanding boss, as you do, I think it's the right thing.

Should I tell him I understand if he has to let me go?

No. It doesn't sound like you've done anything that would give him cause to fire you. Perhaps you've been performing below average recently, but not so badly as to be fired.

Should I follow up with him in another way today?

Not unless you have a specific actionable request for him. I know that, when depressed, one can have the impulse to be overly apologetic or overly explanatory for everything you do. Try to resist this impulse. I think you've said all you needed to say for today.

He asked me what we should do and I said I didn't know- what can I do/ask for from work to help me get over this quickly

As has been said above, time off from work to attend therapy, if you need it. Understanding if you need to call in sick from time to time, on days that you can't even bear to go in to work, just as you might for any other illness. (Do at least try to actually call in when you need to call in sick. From experience, I don't recommend just not showing up and not contacting anyone. Yes, I know, when depressed, this is easier said than done.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:53 AM on June 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

Hey! I'm really proud of you for telling your boss (it's a hard thing to own), and thrilled it went well. He wants to help. See how things go with your meds. Hopefully they'll help you get to a point where you will be able to realize your needs. There is nothing to be ashamed about. You did a brave thing, and all this negative self-talk is depression's voice. Go forth and continue to heal.
posted by Ruki at 12:36 PM on June 14, 2016

It sounds like your boss is supportive and willing to be flexible. Depression is manageable and you'll be okay, so calm down a bit and focus on what's ahead of you. Don't feel the need to over explain or apologize about things; you've told him what's going on and that you're trying to deal with it as you can. Most people know this doesn't happen over night.

I work in a really high-pressure, long hours environment with a small staff, so everyone does a lot of different things. I told my boss about my depression and that I still struggle intensely with an eating disorder. I felt very exposed and for a long while I felt like I should quit and get out of everyone's way.

My boss was extremely supportive and wanted to do what he could to help me, but was really clear about what he needed from me and that he could only be flexible within the restraints of our organization, so he needed to know when I felt spread too thin so that we could reassess my work. At first it really terrified me because I was scared I would fall short of everything, and at one point I told him I should leave so they could hire someone else. He did not accept my resignation and told me I would be okay.

Several months later, I am doing better and am glad that he talked me out of quitting. I was deep in my depression hole and convinced that I was ruining everything for everyone, a dead weight on all my coworkers. I still struggle with my depression and eating disorder, but I finally found a medication that has helped me stabilize, I reorganized my life, and got better at identifying my triggers. I'm an over-sharer and sometimes I really struggle with boundaries because I told this intimate thing to him. But once you tell someone one thing, you don't have to tell them everything; I tell my boss what he needs to know to understand my situation, but not too much so that he feels uncomfortable with the information or like I am expecting him to do something for me. It totally depends on the person, though.

I'll also echo the importance of sick days. I can't take them often -- but I also have a flexible schedule, so sometimes I'll ask to push back a deadline and work a few hours on the weekend to make up for the lost time. For me, it's more important to have breaks and address a depressive episode, when I feel it rearing its ugly head, right away. I put on the brakes and try to do something healing or enriching and then I get back to work. A therapist can help you work out new strategies.

Also, recognize what a big thing you are doing for yourself. You are addressing your depression. It is a difficult but worthwhile task and an important time to understand yourself. And think about it this way: beating up on yourself will not help the company (it will only make you more depressed) or yourself, and it probably doesn't please your boss, who sounds like he cares about your well-being. Treat yourself like a knight on a crusade. You're doing an incredible thing right now and you need all the self-love you can get. Remember that everyone else has struggled or will struggle with something great in their lifetime and you are having one of those moments right now. You're not condemned to depression and there's absolutely light on the other side.
posted by mmmleaf at 9:23 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, there was a time when I really could not continue working because I was depressed and physically unwell, so I had to take time off. There is no shame in that. In California, the state gave me temporary disability (with a doctor's letter) and I spent some time in intensive therapy. I went back to work after three months, still struggling but having had some time to prepare myself and work on my greatest issues. Sometimes it is good to keep going and push yourself; sometimes you have to recognize when to stop and focus on yourself.
posted by mmmleaf at 9:29 PM on June 14, 2016

He said all the right things and said it was just the same as having a physical injury.

This really sounds like your boss understands that this is not just a matter of you being a "flake" or a "wimp", but is a real medical issue, and he is treating it as such. He sounds like a standup dude, so I would try as much as you are able to try to take this worry off of your plate and focus instead on getting well.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:33 AM on June 15, 2016

Although this is US-centric, you might find the Job Accommodation Network something useful to peruse. Their section on possible accommodations for psychiatric disabilities has a very concrete list of ways in which employers can accommodate their employees' limitations due to mental illness. I was in a situation very similar to yours, and when it was time to talk to my employer about my condition (because it was starting to impact my performance), it was super helpful to review that list and think about which ones I would find most useful, and that I could suggest to my employer. And I think it reassured my employer that I wasn't just coming to them with no plan in place; I was able to make suggestions about what would help my performance improve in a proactive way.

Depression is just so, so hard - sending you best wishes in recovery.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 12:36 PM on June 17, 2016

I am sorry but I think one should never disclose mental illness/depression at a workplace however supportive individual managers/colleagues/HR policy may seem, it is only a matter of time that someone will equate poor performance with your depression.
posted by neworder7 at 11:40 PM on July 5, 2016

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