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Fawn Fitter on Dealing with Depression
After a major bout of depression left Fawn Fitter unable to work for several months, she discovered that there were many people struggling with similar concerns about how to integrate the illness into their working lives. Fitter co-authored, with Beth Gulas, Working in the Dark: Keeping Your Job While Dealing with Depression. In this interview, Fitter explains how those dealing with depression can cope while succeeding at their jobs.
Should people tell their boss and/or co-workers that they’re suffering from depression?
It depends on their boss and their workplace. People should ask themselves what they want to accomplish by telling their boss and whether it’s a safe environment where they feel comfortable confiding this to their boss. Although depression has become much more accepted, there are still a lot of harsh stereotypes about the condition. If you’re seeking time off from your job, it might be easier to say, “I’m not feeling well. Is it OK if I take a couple days off and make up the time later?”
How can people get through the workday while striving to overcome depression?
Take a walk during your lunch hour or break at work. Talk to someone, either an employee assistance counselor or a confidant at work (be sure you can trust this person to keep your confidence). Come up with a plan and talk to your boss about strategies that may help make you feel better—telecommuting, shifting responsibilities, etc.
What should people do if their daily coping techniques at work aren’t helping?
People may decide to use sick time or take a brief leave of absence rather than try to work through the worst of the crisis. Since depression is undoubtedly cutting into their concentration and productivity, they may be so incapacitated that they can’t function. More importantly, most people probably don’t have the luxury of unlimited time off. Try to plan ways to cope—to set your depression aside for a few hours a day—until treatment takes effect and your mood starts to lift.
What if people suspect their jobs are contributing to their depression?
They need to ask themselves questions such as, “Am I working in a stressful and unhealthy workplace?” “Do I have a problem with the boss?” “Am I doing work I enjoy?” “Am I physically and emotionally comfortable in the workplace?” “Am I being asked to do too much with too few resources?” Being in the throes of depression isn’t the best time to make a life decision such as leaving your job, but sometimes it’s necessary. We interviewed one woman for our book whose boss had a violent temper and once threw a bookcase at several employees. If you work in an atmosphere that’s toxic, you need to leave.
What can people do to make things easier at work when they’re depressed?
They need to take care of themselves so that they’ll have the strength to cope. Treat yourself with generosity and patience. Avoid major changes in your daily routine and cut back on your responsibilities whenever possible. Make a point of putting in “face time” even though isolation can be tremendously tempting. Make time for yourself in your schedule and ask for changes in your work situation as needed. For example, you might consider asking to telecommute or for part-time hours if this will help you get through the first 30 days and make you more productive.
What are some of the things people can do to stay happy at work?
They can take advantage of employee assistance programs that are completely confidential and can help them through this difficult time. Sometimes it helps to talk to your boss about the performance expectations he or she has for you. If you’re depressed about the job you’re in, maybe there’s an opportunity to transfer within the company or to pursue a job that offers an opportunity to develop your skills.
Can work ever help a person’s depression?
Yes. Since one of the typical symptoms of depression is choosing to be alone, a job can provide a comfortable routine and force you to get out and be around others. If you stay at home, your depression will often be exacerbated.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
This, too, shall pass.
“The best thing about change is...”
...it’s an opportunity that takes you out of your routine.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
I was successfully treated for depression through a combination of medications and therapy and I’m a stronger person because of the experience.
For more information on Fawn Fitter, visit www.workinginthedark.com.