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Functioning at work with depression

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With depression affecting more than 300 million people worldwide,1 it’s more than likely that someone in your workplace is struggling with depression as well, whether they are known to you or not. Depression makes working life difficult, not only due to the stigma surrounding the condition,2 but also misunderstanding around how symptoms affect people in their daily life, particularly at work.

Functional impairment arising from cognitive, physical and mood symptoms of depression can seriously impair a person’s ability to carry out the tasks of their job. This is known as “presenteeism” – when the employee is not physically absent from work, but has seriously reduced functioning – and attributes for 81% of the cost of lost productive time related to depression.3

By learning to spot the common signs of somebody who may be struggling to function at work because of their depression, you will be more equipped to support them in their recovery:

  • Your colleague’s productivity or quality of work has decreased. The cognitive symptoms of depression can make people unable to concentrate, slow their thinking processes, impair their decision making, and make them more prone to mistakes.4
  • Your colleague is forgetful, seems disorganised, or has trouble following conversations. Cognitive symptoms of depression can also affect a person’s memory.4
  • Your colleague is frequently late in the mornings or seems tired through the afternoons. Depression can affect people’s sleep, preventing them from sleeping properly at night, or making them want to oversleep.5
  • Your colleague is not interacting socially in the same way or has problems getting on with others. The mood symptoms of depression can make people withdrawn and disconnected, while functionally they may have trouble seeming interested in others and, as mentioned above, following conversations.2,6
  • Your colleague is experiencing physical troubles like headache, stomach pain or eating problems with no other known cause. Although this could be caused by a number of things, if it occurs alongside other symptoms, it could indicate physical symptoms of depression.5

If you notice these signs in your workplace, make an effort to talk to your colleague about them, without assigning blame. They will be relieved that someone understands what they are going through, and together you can work out a plan for supporting them through their recovery to do their job as best they can – while causing minimal impact on the business and the wider team.

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  1. WHO factsheet: Depression. February 2017. Available at:

  2. Fit for Work: Mental health stigma in the workplace. July 2015. Available at:

  3. Bilsker D et al. Depression and work function: Bridging the gap between mental health care and the workplace. Mental Health Evaluation and Consultation Unit, University of British Columbia, 2005. Available at:

  4. Hughes S et al. Depression in the Workplace. Policy recommendations on how to tackle the leading cause of disability worldwide. Available at:

  5. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostical and Statistical Manual for Mental disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). 2013.

  6. J Lucy Boyd. Depression Signs of Withdrawal From People. Livestrong. August 2017. Available at:

Which of the following symptoms do you find most problematic for your colleagues with depression?
At work, is depression affecting your ability to:

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