Managing depression in the workplace
Our workplaces are the amphitheatres of our lives. Of course, there are other important life theatres, such as our kitchens, which can represent the lack or abundance of emotional and physical nourishment, or the hospital operating room, which can signal our entrance or exit into this world. But most of our significant day-to-day events occur in the office.
Recent studies show that one-third of the population dread going to their jobs every day. There are several factors that can make us stressed at work. The job itself may be challenging and relentless in its nature, like the mythological twelve Labours of Hercules. Not to mention the pressure to reach targets and hit deadlines, plus the need to compete with colleagues. Our offices, too, maybe the small fiefdom of the local bully. This bully will probably showcase their nasty talents on other stages in their own life, but that’s a different story and one that we are not usually privy to.
And then there is the need to do well at work because one has to “succeed in life”, whatever that means. This slippery concept seems to be vaguely connected with social status, although nobody appears to be completely sure what the signs or merit of having succeeded in life are precisely. It is, therefore, impossible to become truly “successful”, so the need to reach this elusive goal inevitably leads to increased stress levels.
Too often, a hotbed of work anxieties are not contained within the physical limits of the office, nor by a nine to five timetable – they travel home with us at the end of each day. When this happens, our domestic lives no longer provide the refuge we need but simply become an extension of the office, in which we replay the fears and resentments we have experienced during the day. Doing this won’t improve matters, and yet we tend to ruminate on all the difficult thoughts and feelings we have gathered over the last eight hours whilst on the telephone, or in the conference room.
When work troubles persistently disrupt the solace we usually find in our homes, we need to start rethinking some of our life priorities. Particularly if others (partner, children etc.) are starting to feel the stress that not only belongs to somebody else (you) but also somewhere else (the office).
If we are not careful, the problems we face in our occupational lives can also transcend and reach the inner depths of our minds, leading to clinical depression. You know things are getting out of hand if you continue to have trouble sleeping, or find yourself irritable and tense in situations, which you would normally be able to enjoy. This inability to take pleasure in life is called anhedonia and remains the cornerstone of a depressive state. The world becomes flat and dreary, or otherwise threatening and hostile. The worst part of the day is the morning because there are so many daunting hours yet to be lived, particularly those eight hours between nine and five.
Our minds are quite resilient, but they need nourishing and protecting, otherwise, they can become brittle and may eventually snap. If you find yourself feeling significantly depressed, there may be a need to re-address some of your life choices, or you may need to seek treatment from a professional.
Charles Lamb, the great nineteenth-century writer, knew the pains of both working life and mental illness. When writing, he would always insist on arriving at his “office” late, and leaving early. Whilst, the rest of us may not have that luxury, we should at least endeavour to look after our mental and emotional wellbeing between working hours.
Dr Rafael Euba, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre. 72 Harley Street, London, W1G 7HG