I'm depressed. Should I still go to work? What should I tell my boss?
August 17, 2008 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I just started a new job about 2 months ago, have a history of depression, and can feel a bout of it coming on right now. Basically I don't know what to tell my employer--I've already missed 4 days in my first month or so because of sickness (related to stress/depression/etc.). Obviously, this concerns my boss because if I'm going to miss so many days then we have an issue. What do I tell him? Or should I quit?:

I'm usually fine at managing depression/anxiety, and can perform fine at work, but I feel right now that I really need to take some time off, due to certain things that have recently happened in life that will and have exaberate my depression.

My first concern is that I have been at this company (very small company, 10 or so employees, so no big corporate programs or anything to help with this kind of stuff) for only 2 months. I have already taken about 4 sick days, which has been brought up with me by my boss, and rightfully so. Basically he said that if I continue to need so many sick days we'll have an issue--and from that I assume that he will 'let me go' if I keep that up.

Second, due to recent events, I feel like I need a couple of weeks off just to do nothing / recover. I don't think I will be very valuable at work if I go. So, what should I tell my boss? I've read some similar ask mefi threads, and the consensus seems to be the less info given the better. Oh, and FYI, I'm located in Canada. My job has me on 6 months probation which means I can get 'fired' or 'let go' pretty much any time for any reason.

What I want to do is talk to my boss, tell him my situation, and ask for a week or two unpaid time off. My worry is that he will tell me to not bother coming back, if I'm going to be unstable like that.

I am very good at my job, and do great work (my co-workers have told my boss this), but I don't want to go to work during a time when my work will be less than standard. And don't want to go to work during a bad bout of depression, which I feel has started now, and will probably last a couple of weeks.
posted by theposterboy to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Either you're letting untreated major depression run your life in a very damaging fashion or you are using personally manageable depression as an excuse to either basically not work when you don't feel like it or to sabotage a job you secretly don't want to keep. Sitting at home doing nothing for two weeks is not recovering from depression, it's capitulating to it. It isn't a reasonable request of a job unless you are in a major depressive episode (essentially unable to function) in which case you need to be seeking treatment, in which context a request for unpaid time off might be reasonable. If you can't or won't work through your depression you should quit. If you ask for a week or more time off at a job you've been at for only two months and have already been reprimanded at for excessive sick time you're almost certainly going to be fired anyway. Situations like this are going to continue to sabotage you until you start treating your depression.
posted by nanojath at 1:26 PM on August 17, 2008 [25 favorites]

If you want to keep this job, I highly recommend you suck it up and go to work. Your work would probably be acceptable, regardless of the fact that you feel that it would be sub-par. You probably feel that way because you are depressed (and you probably feel that everybody will hate you and be out to fire you for your shoddy work, too). Most likely, everybody else will think your work is fine and they will probably not notice the difference.

One time, I had a miscarriage about a month into a new job, which plunged me into a pretty impressive depression. I went to work anyway. It seemed to me that I spent an inordinate amount of time spaced out, surfing the internet, and generally being unproductive. Lo and behold, first performance review comes around, and people think I'm doing great because I managed to do something useful in the 2 hours a day I managed to think straight.

So, show up to work, don't make a big deal out of it, and do what it takes in your free time to help yourself recover.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:37 PM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

What is they say in football? Play hurt.

It will make you feel better about yourself for being able to cope during your less than stellar emotional periods. If you get through this, you will have strength to look back upon during future times when your mind may not feel up to it.

... and listen to nanojath.
posted by netbros at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2008

How would they function without you? If it is a small company does your absence create a serious burden for the rest of the employees? You should think about if your nine coworkers will need to pull ten hour days and so on to pick up the slack if you take off for a couple weeks. That can seriously damage your relationship with them, particularly since you're new and don't have any long-term impressions made of being a normally reliable person.
I'm not saying that should be the deciding factor, but you might not want to return if you're going to be working with people who are all now resentful towards you because they had to miss their kids games, dinners with family, or whatever to cover for you.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2008

Best answer: I'm usually fine at managing depression/anxiety

Everyone I've ever talked to about depression has said this at some point. I "usually" get along fine... I "usually" do okay... and so on.

If you think really hard about it I bet you can recall depressive episodes where your "managing" was actually really half ass - where, just like now, it possibly cost you opportunities, jobs, stressed friendships, etc.

How is staying home going to help? No really, what is that you're going to be able to do at home which is going to help you out of this spiral that somehow getting up, getting showered and dressed, and going out into the world is going to prevent?

Think about what you're actually proposing here.

Is it going to help your depression when your new boss decides your a flake and fires you?

Is it going to help your depression when you're unemployed and out of money?

You need help. But what you're proposing is a path into deeper despair.

Get up and go to work in the morning, even if it seems incredibly hard. Even if it seems like you're swimming up stream. Just do it. Your momentum will carry you through the day. Then repeat every day for the rest of the week.

Sometime either today or tomorrow set things in motion so that you can get professional (real, medical, pharmaceutical) help later this week.

Please don't let this get the best of you - you can waste years of your life doing what you're doing right now.
posted by wfrgms at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2008 [7 favorites]

I have no idea what your social/personal situation is outside of work, but consider that taking time off/quitting/getting fired could easily exacerbate your depression. I've had two episodes of major depression, both triggered by things external to me, and my primary coping mechanism for both was to apply myself wholeheartedly to my studies. In retrospect, most of the symptoms of my depressions were feelings – longing, loss, distance – that needed time, not some huge investment of introspection, to subside. Focusing on my schoolwork attenuated my mind away from those feelings, dulling them significantly and denying them nourishment. I would have been stuck in my depressions forever if I had spent much time alone and idle with them.

At the onset of both depressions, I was far from my normal efficient/effective self, but as weeks and months went by I improved steadily until I felt whole again. I don't know what you're like right now, but right after the breakup that triggered one depression, I would wake up three or four hours after finally passing out from exhaustion and then be unable to get back to sleep because no one was in bed next to me and the feeling of physical/mental anguish overrode everything else in my head. No way was I going to achieve my normal level of performance during the two or so weeks this continued; physically impossible. If you are capable of continuing your work (it sounds like you are), doing so is a better long-term investment for you and your company than the almost certain alternative of being fired.

Or, what everyone else is saying...
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 2:04 PM on August 17, 2008

I'm surprised by some of the comments. Maybe it's a testament to the fact we use the term "depression" so loosely. It's not a bad day that you can "suck it up" and move on and that, in itself, make you feel better. In fact, it is the inability to do that which helps confirm a diagnosis. At home doing nothing for two weeks means one is "capitulating" to depression? I disagree. i have seen people at home and doing nothing for months and in some cases years. This is an illness - just like any other except it involves the brain and much of it, frankly, we don't even understand.

To the OP: I think you need help from a skilled therapist who can help you manage your way through these travails. It's important to not feel as if this is something you can "snap out of," at will and when you can't make yourself feel even worse. I am not big on drugs, but you may need them. On the other hand, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may be of benefit. The way you wrote of a "bout" coming on makes it seem as if this might be a recurring problem that goes beyond clinical depression into some other things where, in fact, drugs can do wonders. As for this current situation with your job, that's where you need a psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist who can evaluate you and see where you are. They can help with what you are/are not capable of right now in relation to sustained full-time employment. Just as if you had a disabling physical illness - you would turn to your physician for guidance on how much you should work, etc. Don't attempt to go through this alone.

I wish you, my friend, the best of luck.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:06 PM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, there are some immensely unhelpful responses here.

In principle, I agree with the sentiment that forcing yourself to go is probably a better answer than sitting at home wallowing, although I take issue with "walk it off" 1950s football coach mentality with which it is being expressed.

You don't mention anything at all about therapy. I think your first step, before you do anything else, is to get to therapy. Talk to a professional, get meds if you need them. You're in Canada, so i assume mental health is covered by the government. If not, many therapists charge on a sliding scale.

I don't know much about Canadian law, but in the US you don't have much protection in a company that small. And i'm guessing you don't have an HR person you can talk to in confidence. I think you already realize, unfortunately, you aren't going to get a lot of help or sympathy from your boss.

Here's the main thing: IT'S ONLY A JOB. try to hang in there, but if it's going to affect your health in a major way, don't go anymore. People leave jobs all the time. You're not going to starve. The absolute worst case, I'm guessing, would be moving back with your folks or onto a friend's couch for a while. A job is NEVER more important than your own mental well-being.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:10 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I understand you, I went trhought the same situation like you (depression, anxiety etc..), and I lost my job, leaving me with a bad reference, and 174 days off in a Year..Was so difficult to find a new job later, as my absences always were shown.so that caused me so much and worse stress, which lead me to a higher anxiety and depression..

Please for all means, do this:

1- Go to the doctor as soon as possible (tomorrow), and ask him to refer you to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

2- Ask your boss to give you 1 week of annual leave because you need to resolve a unexpected problem. Does not matter if he says that you just started , ask him you need that.

3- On this week, do exercise EVERY MORNING , run, jogg, etc. dO that for 1 hour.

4- Go to the library and read or buy this 2 books: 1- a book about Cognogtive teraphy for depression , so you can read it in the mean time you are seeing by your cognotive terapist .
2- Aletter to a friend by Anthony Robbins.

This two books will boost your energy and you will be ready to get back to work feeling better.

4- Just take a week off , dont take more , you wont need more if you do above.

5- When you get back to work, try to get the first appotiment of (CBT), that will cure you, and will make you feel good again.

I am cured now, and it was because of this amazing teraphy.

Good look and take care.

posted by zulo at 2:29 PM on August 17, 2008

I know you can't just "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" -- simply, chemically impossible. I saw from your posting history that you are already on meds. My suggestion: Make a follow-up appointment with your doctor to get it sorted out. In the meantime, try very hard to go to work. When depressed, it's easy to isolate yourself from others, and then just feels plain weird trying to re-integrate back into society. You said something similar in one of your answers to someone else. Remember that feeling? Go to work, perhaps more to attend than to work. If you can, try to do one or two things while there, and if that works then do a few more things. Meanwhile, get thee to the doctor! Do it now, before you fall into the hole that makes it difficult to even talk to the doctor.

As far as what to say to your employer, simply say, "I have a doctor's appointment" and when you return, "Here's a note from my doctor saying I was at my appointment." I would leave out all details, because depression is misunderstood (I think, because we use a single word to identify many different things -- feeling upset after a loss, feeling a little blue or under the weather, and chemical depression).
posted by Houstonian at 2:31 PM on August 17, 2008

Wow, there are some immensely unhelpful responses here. ... I take issue with "walk it off" 1950s football coach mentality

I respectfully disagree drjimmy11. Having experienced depression more than once during my professional career, I can testify that dysfunction leads to further dysfunction. It is a vicious cycle. The more I blew off work, the worse my depression became. The more I "sucked it up" and made myself be productive, the more well I became. Sitting at home, being depressed, does not lead to recovery. Proactively attacking the illness is the solution.
posted by netbros at 2:37 PM on August 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

You're in Canada, so i assume mental health is covered by the government.

Not really. If you get a referral to a group therapy program from a doctor, it's covered. Otherwise, no. Psychiatrists, covered, but only to a point. Psychologists, not. Prescription meds, not covered. Depression can be very expensive in Canada.

Netbros, it worked for you. Won't work for everyone. Telling some depressives to suck it up is like telling some quadriplegics to walk it off.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:00 PM on August 17, 2008

I wish I had gotten nanojath's advice several years ago, before ending up on Social Security Disability for depression with little left in the way of resources or motivation to get myself together and a lot more stigma and isolation to deal with; but I didn't, and that's what resulted. Please take this seriously.
posted by FrauMaschine at 3:08 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Netbros, 'ten pounds' already said it, but all depression is different. What worked for you could kill someone else. If you could literally be "productive" and "attack the illness" on your own - I seriously question whether you had a deep clinical depression. A heart attack patient, in the middle of a coronary, can't clear his arteries and make it go away. By reading the OP, this is not simply a case of the blues.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:42 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

In California, a person in your situation would be covered by state laws, and potentially entitled to unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation. Were this fact pattern here in California (with a non-federal employer with 5 or more employees), the challenge for a new employee would not be state law, but relationship -- a new employee hasn't yet built up the reservoir of trust/brownie points, etc., to take two weeks off and not face some resistance. I don't know the law in Canada where you work, but asking for time off this soon will certainly raise an eyebrow. I hope you are able to muddle through, whatever decisions you make. Good luck.

BTW, if your depression is at all related to domestic violence, there may be particular laws that apply to your situation.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 3:43 PM on August 17, 2008

If you could literally be "productive" and "attack the illness" on your own

Gerard that's the key. I didn't do it on my own. I proactively sought help from medical professionals. When I sat at home telling myself I didn't want to go to work, I got worse. I really think we're all on the same page here. As I mentioned in my first comment in this thread, I strongly agree with nanojath's comment. Sorry for any misunderstanding.
posted by netbros at 3:52 PM on August 17, 2008

I echo nanojath's advice, having gone through this exact same situation last year. Here's the thing: You ARE going to lose this job if you take time off now, and you can't afford to do this financially OR emotionally.

I don't mean to belittle what you're going through. I've been at that point, where you're standing by the window in your pajamas, breathing fast, and thinking about how ridiculous it is that something like anxiety is actually physically paralyzing you. Being trapped in a body that doesn't obey you anymore. And god you wish something or someone could help, or magic it all away. Someone or something who could get up before 5 PM so you could accomplish something, anything, and not feel so worthless.

For me, getting a job WAS that help that I needed. Being forced to get up in the morning and present yourself to the world is going to provide you with the momentum you need to deal with your depression. Go. To. Work. Not only that, but actively seek out commitments that will help you deal with your depression. Start up therapy. Get on medication. Keep working. This is the most painful thing you can do right now, and building this kind of routine and momentum isn't going to make your depression go away, but it's absolutely crucial in getting you to a place where you feel somewhat normal, where you can REALLY deal with it.
posted by greenland at 3:59 PM on August 17, 2008

Not really. If you get a referral to a group therapy program from a doctor, it's covered. Otherwise, no. Psychiatrists, covered, but only to a point. Psychologists, not. Prescription meds, not covered.

I think this is province specific because here psychiatrists are covered 100% and it's possible to see a psychologist through a mental health centre free of charge plus, a referral to a mental health centre isn't necessary. As for prescription costs, a number of provinces have programs that either offset or will pay 100% of the cost for folks who show a clinical need and have a lower income. In BC it's called Plan G and in Ontario its Trillium something or other, the province you reside in should have a web site on their medical services plan and whether they have such a program in place and what the requirements are to qualify.
posted by squeak at 5:38 PM on August 18, 2008

Response by poster: Hey, OP here. Just thought I'd post a follow-up.... 6 months later. :)

I ended up leaving the job mentioned in the post. For some of the reasons mentioned here (too many sick days) but also it was a toxic job / toxic boss. The stress from the job made me physically sick and didn't help my mental state either. I took a break and did some freelance work for a while, and then I got another job.

The job I have now is great. Working environment is great, co-workers all very cool and easy to get along with. And I like what I do. That said, I still encounter the depressive feelings. My perspective on depression has changed a lot--I may be clinically depressed, but I don't dwell on any diagnosis at all. I do take meds which help I think. Anyway, I have days that I feel like just lying in bed all day. But I make myself get up and go to work--usually once I've done my morning routine (shower, coffee, etc.) and gotten to work I feel alright. Maybe not great, but alright. I *have* taken a couple of "mental" sick days, but even though I get to fulfill my desire to lie in bed all day if I want, it doesn't really help at all.

So I would echo what some people have said--to just force yourself to get out of bed and go to work. I've worried that I won't be able to focus etc. but I still always manage to get my work done. And from what people at work have told me I am doing a great job... I think the routine of a 9-5 type job is a must for me. Just getting up in the morning, getting ready for work, and getting out the door is a mood booster.

I don't know if I'm medically "depressed" and I really don't bother thinking about it much anymore. I do know that I'm well enough to get out of bed every morning, even if I realllly don't feel like I am, so I do. And I go to work. I am a 9-5'er, always looking forward to Friday/the weekend (like every office worker does :) and I am content. Other situational changes have also made my mood improve, but that doesn't really apply too much to this post.

In short: get up and go to work in the morning, even if it feels like you can't (because you probably can)... and go talk to your doctor about your whole situation and feelings--pills can help (when necessary) and other forms of therapy can help too... I'm not saying that everything is perfect of course, but follow some of the stuff people have said in this post and you will be on the way to a happier life. :) I know I am...
posted by theposterboy at 9:51 PM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

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