Sometimes a job is just a job, but for most people it's more. It's our second home and often provides our second family. It can be either the provider or the destroyer of our self-worth. We define ourselves to a great extent by our work - after all, what is one of the first questions we are asked when we meet someone new? "What do you do?"
Despite the large part that our work plays in our lives, there is a surprisingly small amount written about how to cope with depression at work. Many more articles and books focus on how depression affects our personal lives. Out of all the books on depression, only one, Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing with Depression, by Fawn Fitter and Beth Gulas, deals exclusively with depression at work.
When I was going through bout after bout of major depression, there was one thing I was thankful for. For some reason, I was able to keep myself together at work and not collapse until I got home. I'm not sure why - maybe because work generally invigorates me and it gave me something to focus on.
But for many people with depression, working while depressed is a Sisyphean task. They can barely drag themselves to work every day, let alone perform well. If you work in an office, you might often just sit and just stare at your computer. If you're in the service industry, you may find that you're snapping at customers. Maybe you're having trouble concentrating, which in certain jobs, like construction or operating machinery, can be disastrous. You know that if you go on like this you will very possibly lose your job.
That's something you want to avoid at all costs. Even if you are for some reason financially able to weather losing your job, that gap in employment will haunt you for years. I lost my job due to my Multiple Sclerosis, and found it very difficult to explain why I left that job without disclosing my MS or outright lying.
There are two avenues you can follow in this situation: you either disclose your condition at work or you don't. In either circumstance, you should get treatment for depression, of course, if you aren't already.
Reasons not to disclose
I've always been fairly open about my depression at work, which very possibly was not a bright thing to do. In many cases I've seen a distinct chilling in someone's attitude towards me after my disclosure. In some cases co-workers have taken it in stride, and in rare cases, someone has responded by disclosing their own depression or that of someone they know.
You are always running a risk when you disclose your depression to anyone at work. You may feel that if you've comfortably discussed details of your love life with a co-worker or co-workers, you should be able to discuss anything.
Don't count on it. Mental illness falls into a whole new category of true confessions. The subject is still taboo, and is still misunderstood by many people who haven't had a friend or family member who has a mental illness. There is no doubt that it could affect your potential for advancement.