A few months ago, I told you how a quarter-life crisis catapulted me into a severe depression, and my story of recovering. The response I received from that piece since tells me that I’m not alone in this plight, and that many of us have experienced a similar personal crisis. And a recent article on Forbes confirmed that more millennials are suffering from depression, anxiety, or some other form of mood disorder than ever before.
One of the hardest parts of my ordeal was that, in the midst of it all, I still had to be a functional adult and stay on top of my job responsibilities. And while there are many great books online about how to deal with depression or anxiety at work, I also want to share some suggestions based on my own experience for making it through—and even thriving.
1. Get Help
If you’ve recognized that you’re depressed, then hopefully, you’ve already begun treatment for depression—working with a therapist or support group is the best way to help you cope with your symptoms, which in turn will help you better manage your professional life.
If not, keep in mind that most employer- and school-based insurance plans offer some type of mental health coverage. Many companies offer additional mental health services through the Employee Assistance Programs at little or no cost. If you’re unsure about the coverage you have, reach out to HR and inquire about the specifics of your plan. Also read your company’s policies and procedures regarding medical leave and sick days in case you need to take time off for medical appointments.
If you’re self-employed, check out your insurance policy and see what kind of mental health benefits it includes. (This is when you hope you read the fine print!) And if you’re uninsured, look into community mental health centers, which often offer services on a sliding fee scale.
2. Find Support
It’s key to find a trusted friend, ideally at work, who can support you through this difficult time. There will be tough days—some that seem nearly impossible—on the road to recovery, and I can’t stress how important it is to have someone to lean on and talk to. In my case, I found several friends at work that had been through similar experiences, but if you don’t want to share what’s going on with anyone at the office, make sure you have supportive friends and family to talk to. Group therapy is another great way to see that you’re not alone in your struggle. One of the best things I did was participate in a depression and anxiety therapy group, where I learned coping strategies for the workplace from other participants.
3. Set Clear Goals
One of the difficult things about my depression was that it made it nearly impossible for me to focus. I had to set very clear goals for myself and be realistic about what I would be able to accomplish—and I had to do it on a daily basis.
I would create lists for the day and highlight my top priorities, which would ensure that I was meeting the needs of my most important audience—my boss. I would also double check any important memos, give myself extra time to prepare assignments, and have a colleague give my work a second look if I was having a rough week. During staff meetings, I would take copious notes because I knew that my memory retention was failing me.
Do whatever helps you, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you have a difficult day. The road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.
4. Speak Up
If things are incredibly difficult, or if you need to take more time off than your mental health days allow, you may need to say something to your employer. During a particularly difficult week, I finally told my boss that I was dealing with depression. I was so worried that she would figure out something was wrong, and I decided I would rather her know that it was depression and not a lack of interest in my work.
Obviously, not everyone has that kind of relationship with her supervisor, so don’t feel obligated to disclose details. If you’re taking a lot of time off or you’re worried others will wonder what’s going on, you can tell them that you’ve been “dealing with some health issues” and leave it at that. Or, consult with HR to determine the best approach.
If don’t want to discuss specifics with your colleagues at all, request a few days off and do whatever helps you cope with your symptoms and re-group. Really. It may mean the difference between maintaining your professional reputation and having a breakdown at the office.
5. Take Care of Yourself
A valuable lesson I took away from my experience is that it’s okay to take time to take care of yourself—in fact, it’s actually a very important factor in your professional success. I ignored my symptoms for a long time and was so busy with work that it seemed ludicrous to take time for myself. But after my mini-meltdown, I realized that my therapist, my psychiatrist, my yoga instructor, and my group therapist (or as I called it, “The Keeping Betsy Functioning Dream Team”) made me a better, happier employee—and what company doesn’t benefit from that?
Finally, remember that you won’t only get through this, you may even be a better employee and discover new things about yourself because of it. In the meantime, find your village of support and don’t ever feel the need to suffer in silence. You are definitely not alone.
Betsy Aimee, Women’s health advocate, The Daily Muse