I am suffering from depression, do I tell my employer?
November 7, 2007 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I am suffering from depression, do I tell my employer?

Although I have had bouts of it over the years, and the so-called "talking cure" has helped lift me out of it, I am now at a place where I cannot go it alone and am seeking professional help. Don't want to bore anyone with the details/symptoms, but, it has clearly affected my job performance, and I'm worried that I might get canned (this may just be depression paranoia talking) as a result. Will telling someone in HR help my plight, or just further stigmatize me?
posted by Gervais Brooke-Hamster to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A 'previously' that might be of interest.
posted by kmennie at 3:37 PM on November 7, 2007

Are you in the US? Is this a big company? Does your company have a policy relating to the ADA/FMLA?

Your HR person SHOULD be helpful, and provide confidential help. Will they? Hard to tell. But it sounds like you have two options: go to HR and seek help (and maybe get stigmatized and fired if HR is slimy), or continue to suffer and maybe get fired.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:39 PM on November 7, 2007

I am sorry to hear that. Most medical benefit plans allow something like 20 visits to a therapist as part of basic health care. Mental health is as important as physical health, and I think you should leave it at something like "I am seeking medical attention" if you do decide to talk to HR. I don't think they need to know what kind of medical attention. There are still a lot of stigmas attached to getting therapy and even with depression you still find people who think you should just be able to bootstrap yourself out of it. It is good you realize you need some help and are getting it. I don't think your employer really needs to know anything more than that. Good luck.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:42 PM on November 7, 2007

Read up on the ADA and FMLA.

I should note: the issue of legal rights to employment and adverse employment actions is one thing. Those are what the statutes address.

But the issue of stigma is invidious and impossible to legislate against.

If you want a pure legal answer, you can ask an attorney if reading about those statutes doesn't answer your question.

If you want an answer where people will look at your differently, then please realize that the law can't really stop that.

That is one of the ironies of employment law: employment law make sure people keep their jobs and pay scale, etc. But when employment law issues arise, it frequently creates such an odd work environment that the employee doesn't want to be there anyhow, irrespective of their legal rights.
posted by dios at 3:43 PM on November 7, 2007

I wouldn't tell my employer. Speaking from experience, to keep from getting canned, fake it 'till you make it, as they say. Good luck.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:11 PM on November 7, 2007

Is there a way of finding out what they think of your performance (i.e. do you have a review coming up, or are your superiors approachable such that you can ask them)?

Maybe you can approach it by saying something like "Hey boss, I really enjoy it here and want to give it my best. How do you think I am doing? Is there anything I can do to help you guys out more?"

Best of luck! I hope you feel better very soon!
posted by bitteroldman at 4:29 PM on November 7, 2007

I say never, ever tell. Because you can't un-tell. And I've seen this go really wrong. In one case, the person went from being a good employee to someone who was characterized as not having enough "energy." Nothing had changed except the person had disclosed their condition.

If you have been at the company for long enough to establish strong performance, than you should be able to ride out 6 months or so of less-good performance.
posted by Mozzie at 5:15 PM on November 7, 2007

At my job at a big firm we have an Employee Assistance Program (or something...I can't remember what it's called) that is an external company that gives advice about child care, addiction etc. If you go to them, they have to keep what you tell them confidential from your employer. It might be good to just make a visit there to cover your behind in case something comes up and you have to say that you were trying to get help.
posted by kenzi23 at 5:31 PM on November 7, 2007

Document everything. Get a letter from your treating doctor (or psychologist, counsellor, etc). Come to some arrangement with your doctor to get medical certificates for days off, if required. Also, ask for a copy of your company health plan to see what you can access. Depression is very common among office workers for entirely obvious reasons. Chances are you're not the first employee of your company to have it and you won't be the last.

As to what you can do yourself, manage your work as much as you can to allow for the possibility of needing a day off at short notice. Try to make yourself replaceable, in terms of clearly documenting what you're working on, where it's up to, etc. Break down your tasks into smaller tasks that can be ticked off a list. (You will find this helpful for yourself too; while depressed it's easy to get overwhelmed or lose track of things.) Think about your work priorities and annoyances; if things are high priority but extremely annoying to you, think about ways to manage them. There may be a time of day that you find it easiest to do them; before co-workers get in to distract you with other things, for instance, or after they leave.

Depending on your homelife, you might be able to move your work hours around a bit; maybe come in a bit later in the morning, and stay a bit later in the evening, or come in early and leave early, to maximize the time that you feel productive and are at work.

Work out what it is that is primarily depressing you, if you haven't already. If it's work, then realistically if the nature of your job and your work environment are depressing you, and the rest of your life is otherwise fine, then this will continue to be the case until you get a less depressing job. Life is too short to spend multiple hours a day doing something you hate. You may find it helps you just to make a firm decision to leave your present job. I don't mean quit right now - just make the decision to get a better job. Update your resume, sound out people you could ask for references, and start looking. It's easier to get a new job while you have one, since you can afford to be a lot more selective (and thus look less desperate). Between jobs, leave yourself at least a week to take a nice relaxing holiday somewhere pleasant and peaceful, ideally somewhere that has good associations for you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:46 PM on November 7, 2007

It depends on your manager. I went through something similar recently and told my manager, what I got back was "so you're too lazy to do your job and you want me to do what about it?".

posted by bumper314 at 6:04 PM on November 7, 2007

If it's possible, I think I feel even more depressed having read these replies. These are all great and thoughtful responses, no doubt, but the idea of summoning extra energy to document or further conceal my condition seems pretty daunting at this point. But, then, most things seem pretty daunting at this point, and these all probably point to the most prudent course of action.

Is it sad, though, with 15 years in my field, a skilled and accomplished manager, that I would have to fight accusations of laziness and low energy, based on what I am sure is a temporary medical condition.

I guess I'll just keep my mouth shut about it.

Thanks again for the help.
posted by Gervais Brooke-Hamster at 6:37 PM on November 7, 2007

I just wanted to post a response from the "been a boss on the receiving end of this kind of information" perspective. When the employee who worked for me told me that she was depressed and felt like her work performance was suffering because of it, I greatly appreciated the information. Prior to her telling me, I was actually worried that she was unhappy with our workplace, and that that was what had caused her obvious shift in attitutde and performance. Knowing what was going on with her helped me to relax and enabled me to be a more supportive and considerate boss. It is completely true that some employers will discriminate against you based on information you disclose about medical conditions. Not all employers will though, and some employers (like myself) have had their own struggles with depression or understand the impacts of depression based on their relationships with partners or family members. Of course I can't predict how your supervisor or HR department would react to that information, I just wanted to let you know that not all employers will consider your depression a "stigma", and some will understand that depression is a normal/cyclical part of many employees' lives.
posted by ezrainch at 7:11 PM on November 7, 2007

Sorry you're having such a bad time. One thought, since you mentioned that your feeling of not doing a good job might be depression-induced. It very well could be. (If it was really horrible, I think he would have said something to you already.)

I went through this for years, and I agree with bitteroldman that you might want to ask your boss for a time to sit down together and ask him how he thinks you're doing. You don't have to say anything about depression or that you feel you're doing an awful job or anything. It may be that he doesn't think you're doing an awful job, or it may be that he's noticed that the quality of your work has changed some, but it's not at the "awful" point. Depending on what he says, you could then say something along the lines of you've been dealing with a medical condition (or "some things") that you realize may have taken some of your attention away from your work, but, since that's the last thing you want to happen, you have been addressing this situation and that you expect that it won't affect your work in the future (or something like that).

Have you talked about this with the professional you're seeing? I find that they have usually had to address this issue before and have some good advice. I found that when I talked to my supervisors about my depression, they were very supportive.

Good luck!
posted by la petite marie at 8:55 PM on November 7, 2007

If it's possible, I think I feel even more depressed having read these replies. I didn't write here but I did write in the "previously" linked above. I hope you take a look at the resources available. I agree strongly that expending energy on concealing can exacerbate depression, though it is necessary at times. I hope that you are able to find some assistance, and feel free to call our office for advice.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:58 PM on November 7, 2007

I'm speaking as an HR person for an employee-friendly small business. You haven't said anything about what your relationship with your boss is like, or what your company's HR policies are, and I think those are key factors, as many above have pointed out.

Glad ezrainch spoke up. If your boss has generally been supportive and/or if you've seen your boss be sensative and respectful towards others going through difficulties, then I think it's a good idea to speak with him/her.

Also, as far as the legal side of things, if you don't tell your employer there's anything going on, they can fire you for poor performance. However, if you tell them "I have a medical issue I'm dealing with, and I don't want to get into details and I'm not asking for any accommodations at this point - but if you find my performance becomes a problem, please let me know so we can engage in open communication about it." That gives them a heads-up so that if supervisors/HR start discussing your performance, it frames the question differently: how do we support someone struggling with a medical issue. That's a better perspective than: how do we get rid of that poor performer.

You might also add something about how you'd like the person you're speaking with to keep this confidential, and not disclose it to others except on a need-to-know basis, and to let you know if/which/when others are told.

When stuck in depression, it's hard to think about factors outside, but it may actually be that there are people around you who would be happy to help. Not only your boss. HR folks are often happy to be advocates and resources for folks with these issues. It feels good to help people, and HR folks don't always get a lot of opportunities to do that for co-workers.

Also, as far as resources for depression, I'd suggest the book Feeling Good by David Burns. As he explains, things are not actually as bad as they appear! Really!
posted by quinoa at 10:15 PM on November 7, 2007

I disclosed; looking back I regret it completely. If I had it to do again I would not specify a condition. I had to say something because my performance obviously suffered, but I would say only that it is a medical condition. If I had to disclose the condition I would only have done that with HR in confidence and not to the person I reported to.

People can be very understanding and may even have some direct or indirect experience with depression but the fact remains that your boss is your boss and their primary interest is to run their area. Your problem will be an obstacle to their success. And people are people -- their view of you will change to some degree, and you may never feel like you can recover that sense of professionalism and propriety in that workplace. For me disclosing was a slippery slope -- I felt I was constantly in apology for my state of mind and my fragility. In that state, with no defences, I had to sit in meetings with my bosses and talk about my most private feelings, things I wasn't talking to anyone but my doctor about. I cried many times in front of one of my superiors, particularly in my yearly review meeting. In the aftermath I felt completely exposed to people I barely knew on a personal level. Living for months with essentially no privacy and no dividing line between my work and my personal life left me feeling like there was just no way to go back to business at usual. I ended up leaving the job around the same time I was feeling normal again.

I'm sorry to discourage you -- I know it seems like it would be a relief to get this off your chest and give your employer some information to get the pressure off, but I think you should be very, very careful when it comes to mental illness, and only specify when it is a condition of your continued employment there. Whatever you do, get your doctor on your side. What's going on at your workplace and how you feel there is a really important aspect of your recovery.
posted by loiseau at 3:40 AM on November 8, 2007

(I should add, on the brighter side, that in the scheme of things leaving that job was a very good thing. It needed to happen and I still consider it one of the best decisions I've made, because it solidified a few things about what I want and don't want for my working life. But the 6 months leading up to leaving were very painful and degrading and I am happy I will never have to re-live them.)
posted by loiseau at 3:43 AM on November 8, 2007

I'll second the "it depends on your relationship with your employer."

I guess I don't really have a typical experience, since I was working for a disability law firm where mental health was never stigmatized. But even if that weren't the case, I would have felt comfortable telling my boss that I was experiencing some difficulties with mental health, that I was seeking treatment for my condition, and that I would greatly value her support in helping me continue to do good work for them.

It also helped me to know that there were people rooting for me and willing to help me stay part of the team. I'm in a new job now, and I feel very comfortable here. My depression and anxiety are being controlled through medication for now, but I am wise enough to know that no solution is permanent. I only hope that when I face my next serious deterioration, I feel comfortable enough with my employer/supervisor to be honest with them about what I am facing and what support I need.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:22 AM on November 8, 2007

Come back and let us know what you decided and how it went, OK?
posted by la petite marie at 10:45 PM on November 9, 2007

Well, I have decided to keep it under my hat for now, and see how it goes. Seeing a therapist and now a shrink as well, and got a prescription for 10mg/day for Lexapro. The Psychiatrist advised to start taking it on Saturday morning to watch out for side effects (drowsiness), and not screw up a working day.

Any ideas what I should expect?
posted by Gervais Brooke-Hamster at 6:23 AM on November 14, 2007

I had very severe side effects with Lexapro. I started at 10mg too. I had NO appetite, and became nauseous when I did eat. I was dizzy, and had at least one "extremely detached" spell, which is a bit like an out of body experience and a blackout all in one. (But that only happened once within the first few weeks of taking the meds, and never again.) I also had TMJ problems, because the medicine can cause you to clench your teeth and yawn excessively. Also, diarrhea.

For about a month I ate General Tso's Chicken which was the only thing I could stomach in small quantities. I lost over 20lbs. But my brain has never felt better.

The good news is that IF the medicine works for you, and you are feeling better, then it is probably worth learning to live with the minor discomfort of the side effects. I refused to let the doctor take me off of the medicine and eventually the side effects subsided almost completely. I'm back up to what I weighed before taking the medicine and everything else is pretty much not a huge problem anymore. Meanwhile, my mental health is better now than it has ever been before.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2007

I've never taken Lexapro, but just wanted to wish you well. Hope everything works out for you. Now that you have a team, they can help you figure out if, or how, to disclose your condition at work.
posted by la petite marie at 10:48 PM on November 15, 2007

Thanks, la petite marie, that's very nice of you to say.
posted by Gervais Brooke-Hamster at 1:29 PM on November 16, 2007

So, at the recommendation of my psychiatrist, I started on Lexapro on Saturday morning. The first day, I felt a slight lift, but was mostly unremarkable. I noticed some things that I had missed. Little things like I needed to scrub the bathroom and move my shoes off the kitchen floor into the shoe rack.

That night, I had a couple of stiff drinks, which I think it was a mistake. I was happy enough while it was happening, but the next day I had unbelievable anxiety. Could not sleep at all, and while I didn't not have hangover per se, whatever lingering effects of the night before's drinks, seemed to last about 3x as long as they normally did. At any rate, it will probably be a few weeks before I try alcohol with this stuff.

This morning, I was still feeling a bit anxious, but this seemed to wear off after a couple of hours. It was relatively easy to leave the house (on time for once), whereas I normally linger about an hour too long. Owing to rain and sleet, my normally 1 hour and 20 minute commute topped three hours (2:55 in the car), but this didn't seem to faze me either.

At work today, I feel somewhat more relaxed, the ADD is still there, but seeming to subside a bit. I was able to bear down an not click-refresh MeFI all day, as I often do. Mostly, I have kind of vaguely warm, euphoric feeling. I feel a bit jittery and dehydrated (not unlike what X felt like 15 years ago.. do they call it "E"now?).

So far, this seems like powerful stuff. Interested to see what else awaits.
posted by Gervais Brooke-Hamster at 3:26 PM on November 19, 2007

Came back to see what happened. Sounds like good news!
posted by la petite marie at 4:58 PM on November 30, 2007

Thanks. By and large the results have been positive. I have been upped to 15mg/day, and my anxiety has mostly disappeared into the background, so now I can get at therapy without as many unwelcome distractions. The side-effects, if any, have been slight... but I'm definitely moving forward. I wouldn't exactly call it that I have awoken from a fog, but it has been something of a mild awakening nevertheless. We'll see how it goes.
posted by Gervais Brooke-Hamster at 7:55 AM on December 4, 2007

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