Kristen Ryan graduated a year ago and accepted a position in public relations. After two months on the job, she started having anxiety attacks, and after six months on the job, anxiety attacks were almost daily. Ryan says the anxiety was from the “pressures of life changes: Moving away from family, staring new job, transitioning to a completely different life from school to work. And,” she says, “I broke up with my long-time boyfriend.”
The most common age to experience depression for the first time is in one's twenties. Typical triggers are those Ryan cited, resulting from the stress of entering the workforce. Recently, these triggers have been exacerbated, as the new generation of workers takes for granted that challenging and rewarding work will come their way. This is a generation whose parents oversaw each moment of their schedule to ensure proper mentoring and enrichment. So a job standing at the office copier is a big comedown that many new workers are not prepared to accept. For those who have no choice, the result can be depression.
Depression is serious: Fifteen percent of clinically depressed people die by suicide. The illness is more common in women than men, and according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five working women has suffered from depression or anxiety.
The good news is that depression is very treatable, so getting help is important. Dr. Stuart Koman, president of the mental health clinic Walden Behavioral Care, says there is a preponderance of scientific evidence to show that a combination of medicine and talk therapy can solve most cases of depression.
Ryan found that sessions with a social worker helped her to get back on track. But not everyone recovers so quickly. Like Ryan, Rachael Chaump joined a public relations firm last year, and after a few months, she realized that she had a severe problem. She says, “I was crying at my desk every day for no reason. And finally I called my dad and told him I hate my life and I can't go on like this.” Chaump ended up on temporary disability in a treatment program that included drug therapy to treat what was a chemical imbalance.
Both women had to move carefully in order to keep the jobs they had. Ryan took meditation classes and then, when she had an anxiety attack she “went to a secluded place at work to meditate.” She also took long walks outside in the middle of the workday. Chaump was not able to hide her depression as well, but she says that even with all her crying, “People just got used to it. As long as I kept answering the phone no one said anything to me.”
If you think you're depressed, you need to do two things: Figure out how to keep your job, and figure out how to get help. According to Jonathan Alpert, associate director of the Depression Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, “One of the most difficult calls is to recognize depression in oneself. This is true even for people in mental health fields. Often the first step is getting feedback from someone else.”
Enter the employee assistance program — EAP — that helps workers confidentially identify mental illness in themselves. Denise Curran is a therapist at ComPsych, an employee assistance program serving six thousand organizations. She describes her role as sort of a referral service. Curran, like most EAP therapists, can give you advice over the phone or online as to whether you seem depressed, and who you can go to, locally, to get help.
The EAP process is completely confidential, but crying at your desk is another story. Chaump's company, FCF Schmidt Public Relations, was incredibly supportive and gave her paid leave even though that is not the company policy, per se. Other companies are not likely to be so gracious, so be careful. A good resource is the book Working in the Dark: Keeping your job while dealing with depression. Author Beth Gulas, a specialist in corporate critical intervention, says the book can help you determine if it's a safe environment to tell your boss about your depression. The book also gives advice on how to keep working through depression if you have to (example: set fifteen-minute goals for yourself.)
Before you curse the fact that you have to show up for work every day, consider that work might be a godsend for someone who is depressed. According to Gulas, “One of the typical symptoms of depression is choosing to be alone. But it is likely that depression will be exacerbated if you stay at home.”