How to Work with Someone with Depression

How to Work with Someone with Depression

With over 300 million people worldwide affected by depression, chances are good that you know or work with someone who deals with the illness on a daily basis.

Depression can affect a person's ability to perform simple tasks, thereby making work difficult. When someone is unable to effectively complete tasks in a working environment, it can affect everyone around them.

Understanding how to work with someone who has depression can greatly increase overall productivity while maintaining a more pleasant work environment.

1. Recognise the symptoms of depression

Not everyone who is sad is depressed. Depressive episodes are categorised as either mild, moderate or severe depending on how many symptoms a person has and how severe those symptoms are.

Someone with a mild episode may be able to continue working daily but have difficulty completing tasks, while someone experiencing a severe episode may be unable to function at all. Moderate episodes fall somewhere between those two extremes on the spectrum.

People with depression may also suffer from anxiety. They may experience loss of sleep or appetite. They may apologise often because they feel guilty or have feelings of low self-worth. They may have problems concentrating, experience lack of energy or exhibit unexplained medical issues like headaches or joint pain.

How to Work with Someone with Depression

Some people with depression have episodes that are considered manic followed by normal behaviour before sinking into a new depressive state. These manic episodes are characterised by behaviours such as irritability, inflated self-esteem, over activity, constant talking and less need to sleep.

2. Understand that depression is a chronic condition

Someone who is depressed cannot simply "snap out of it". Depression lasts for an extended period of time. Someone with depression may appear to recover and then relapse repeatedly.

In someone who deals with untreated depression, these periods of recovery and relapse can be more frequent than in someone who is being treated effectively for the condition.

The person experiencing depression may or may not be consciously aware that they are entering a depressive state. They may simply feel like their world is beginning to spin out of control.

3. Realise that words can have a profound effect on someone living with depression

Depressed people often struggle with feelings of low self-worth. Because they already feel like they are not meeting societal standards, any perceived negative interaction can send them spiraling into a depressive state.

That does not mean that they should not receive correction in the workplace. However, choosing words carefully as well as phrasing things in a constructive rather than a critical manner can help them to more positively accept correction.

When you notice improved performance or a particularly good job, express that in a positive way. Praising someone who has depression helps to build their confidence and might help to keep them in a normal mood longer.

Don't offer fake praise or overly enthusiastic praise, though. Doing that can send a depressed person into a tailspin emotionally. They can often sense when someone is not being sincere.

4. Know that you cannot "fix" a depressed person

You cannot control how someone else feels. You have no control over how they perceive their surroundings.

You can, however, strive to be a positive part of their life. Offer a smile to your depressed coworker. If they choose to talk to you, simply listen and respond appropriately. Don't offer unsolicited advice or tell them how you would handle their situation.

If they do choose to ask for your advice, offer non-judgemental, positive feedback. Remember, your coworker is not your personal service project.

5. Understand that a depressed person may have difficulty with social interaction

Someone with depression can struggle with the desire to be social and the inability to do so. They may desperately wish to be included in activities, but just as desperately hope no one extends an invitation.

Knowing that, you can choose to extend an invitation for lunch, a dinner party, or some other social activity, but don't be offended if they decline. Alternatively, don't be surprised if they accept, or if they later choose to cancel their plans with you.

Depending upon the severity of the depression, the mood swings can have a crippling effect, and while they have every intention of attending when they accept an invitation, they may be unable to follow through when the appointed time comes.

Remember, they have little to no control over their mood swings. Continue to extend invitations. One day, they may be able to accept and enjoy the activity with you.

6. Resist the urge to pass judgement

Working with someone who does not seem to carry their share of the workload can be extremely stressful and frustrating. It is important to remember that people who live with depression are dealing with an unseen illness.

Other than utilising treatment plans that are available to them, someone with depression has very little control over their symptoms. Try to keep interactions with them positive, but not overly indulgent. Do not place blame on the person for the illness. Be patient and understanding rather than judgemental and accusatory.


It takes little effort to work with someone who struggles with depression. Maintaining a positive, relatively stress-free work environment will be beneficial to everyone in the workplace.

Remember, someone with depression is a person who should not be defined simply by their illness. Treat them fairly and positively, and you will both experience a better work environment.

About the Author

Emily Palmer is a caffeinated blogger who loves talking decorating, travel, yoga, parenting, self development, and more. She can be reached at if you can’t find her at the local café.

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