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You're Not 'Weak' If Your Workplace Triggers Your Depression

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If your workplace constantly leaves you feeling overwhelmed, burnt-out, on edge and emotionally numb, you aren’t alone. Corporate culture leaves a substantial portion of workers struggling with their mental health, and it isn’t a reflection of the exhausted employees; it’s the fault of their employers.

A University of South Australia study found that employees working at companies that don’t prioritize mental health have three times the risk for depression as those who work in mentally healthier environments. While the risk of physical conditions, like heart attacks and strokes, increases with high-pressure, low-reward work environments, the risk of depression in those settings is even higher — and it can be deadly.

Companies replete with micromanaging or completely non-directive bosses, unrealistic deadlines and scant encouragement for employees may fail to realize that they could be responsible for their employees’ depression symptoms, but those signs of mental illness can have significant consequences for employees. Depression may also coincide with excessive sleepiness, anxiety and suicide attempts. Considering that depression plays a role in over 50% of all suicide attempts and involves other symptoms that may interfere with work performance, employers need to start taking workers’ mental health seriously, which starts with an understanding that depression is not synonymous with “weakness.”

Workplace cultures that put employees at risk of depression may also instill that any symptoms of mental illness, even if they’re largely brought on by the workplace itself, are signs that their employees are “weak.” Instead of reinforcing these beliefs, which could lead to lower workplace morale, divisiveness and lower employee performance, employers can work to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Accepting mental health days as valid, understanding if projects require extensions and offering affordable insurance plans with mental health coverage will help employees who struggle with depression understand that they aren’t “weak” for living with mental illness and their workplace cares about their needs.

Until companies are willing to make these changes, it may be difficult for workers who feel bogged down by workplace expectations to perceive that their jobs may be the prime influence for their depression symptoms. Depression may involve self-blame — the sense that “if not for me and my ‘messed up’ brain chemistry, I wouldn’t have this illness.” But if you’re one of the many workers who’s struggled with worsening depression since accepting a job, it’s likely not just your brain chemistry at play. Your environment — including your office environment — is powerful, and the attitudes of your bosses and coworkers can easily chip away at your self-esteem until you believe everything, including your mental state, is entirely your fault.

The truth, though, is that “toxic” workplaces are an incredibly real phenomenon, and they may rely on gaslighting employees in order to “improve morale” — when the reality suggests that both morale and employee mental health will decline under these conditions. If your boss constantly berates you for being unable to complete 10 hours worth of work in the course of an 8-hour workday, hearing these messages about your (perfectly reasonable) productivity rate may convince you that you’re “unproductive” or “lazy” when you’re really just overworked, overwhelmed and struggling with depression. These workplace tactics are unfair because they diminish your completely valid feelings and may make you feel like a hindrance to your company when your company is actually a detriment to your mental health.

It can be incredibly difficult to separate your depression from the beliefs your toxic workplace instills, but if you find yourself constantly feeling sad, hopeless and apathetic, particularly at work, your workplace may be contributing to your depression symptoms. Moreover, if you find yourself questioning whether you’re a “bad employee,” look at the amount of work you and your fellow employees are expected to complete in a workday and how you feel after you leave the office. Chances are, you’re a talented worker employed at a company that has devalued you to such an extent that your depression is partially a result of your overly demanding workplace. And while it may be easy to believe that your depression triggers make you a “weak” employee or person, you’re incredibly strong for showing up to work day after day and still finding time to care for yourself.

If your workplace triggers your depression symptoms, you aren’t “weak,” a “bad employee” or a liability to your company. Making a company culture mentally healthy is the responsibility of the company, not its employees, and your experience with depression in your demanding workplace is completely natural. If you’re struggling with depression symptoms, continue to carve out time for self-care outside of work and see a professional if you can. You’re doing everything you possibly can at your job, and if your company makes you believe that your depression symptoms are a sign of weakness, remember that you’re doing your best and you’re never alone. It’s not you who’s “weak” — it’s your company’s culture.

Photo by Chris Ainsworth on Unsplash

Originally published: July 6, 2021
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