Is Your Job Causing Your Depression?
Unless we’re independently wealthy, most of us spend a large part of our waking hours at work. Our “second homes” can contribute positively or negatively to our well-being. If you’re suffering from depression, it’s worth asking yourself if your job could be a factor, or even the sole cause.
Perhaps your job isn’t a good fit with your personality. I found over the years that, probably because of my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I get bored doing jobs that keep me any less than extremely busy. One temporary job I held required me to do nothing but sit at my desk and read for four out of five days, as my boss was traveling all but one day of the week. While some people would probably find that type of job relaxing, I was so unhappy that I dragged myself reluctantly to work each day.
Then there was my stint in retail. Although I worked in a managerial capacity in each store I was in, I was expected to sell. I hate selling. First of all, I’m somewhat introverted. Not the best personality fit for selling. Second, I guess I have a smidgen too much integrity for the job. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell someone they looked great in an outfit if they didn’t, or try to sell them something they clearly didn’t need. I was never comfortable lying, bending the truth or even exaggerating. I was very happy performing the operational duties like checking in shipments and processing payroll and paperwork. But everyone in a small retail store is expected to sell, especially during the holidays, so I really couldn’t get away from it, and was consequently miserable. A bleeding ulcer finally forced me out of retail and into administrative work.
Sometimes your work environment itself is the culprit. Your workplace might be stressful or unpleasant. Maybe you’re someone who craves quiet, but works in a noisy factory. Perhaps you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but you work in an area with little or no light, when you really need a window with lots of sunlight.
Do you have an ineffective or unpleasant boss? My first job out of college was as a receptionist at a management consulting firm (my B.A. in English Lit was vastly under-appreciated when it came to getting me a job). Although the first group of people I worked with were pleasant and helpful in telling me what was expected of me, the boss I worked for when I was promoted to Team Assistant was another matter. For one thing, he was immature. This was during the 80s, when 1-900 recorded phone sex lines were popular. He would call one of these numbers and then forward the call to me. I could see him through the glass wall that separated our desks, snickering at my puzzled expression when I heard a sexy female voice coming on to me.
That was simply annoying (and pre-sexual harassment awareness, so useless to complain about), but his lack of direction to me was more serious. My orientation to the job consisted of being shown where the filing cabinets were. I wasn’t given any goals or specific projects. I floundered around for about three months, trying to figure our what I was supposed to be doing. Finally, I dragged him into a conference room and told him that I didn’t feel like I was being effective in my job at all and that I needed some help and direction. He assured me that I was doing fine, but three months later I was told by Human Resources that he had asked that I be reassigned. They told me that he hadn’t been any more effective with his previous Team Assistants and he wasn’t going to get another one assigned to him. Unfortunately there were no teams in need of an assistant, so I was laid off.
I had one of my major bouts of depression while I was working for this boss that continued till I had found a new job. Not surprisingly, I felt that somewhere along the line things had gone wrong. Despite the menial nature of my previous job as a receptionist, I was happier in that position. My bosses gave me clear direction and appreciated my efforts. One of those bosses wanted me to be his Team Assistant, but the bozo was next in line before him, so bad luck and timing landed me with him.
Once you identify factors at your workplace or your job that are possibly causing or exacerbating your depression, it’s worth considering whether you can change them or not. Sometimes, especially in a tough economy, it’s impossible. In that case, you might want to see if therapy will help you to develop coping mechanisms. But in some situations, all you need to do is ask. If I had it to do over again, I would have done things differently. I would have talked to Human Resources about my misgivings about my boss. It’s very possible that I would have been reassigned, and very likely avoided that bout of depression.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.