The Hidden Epidemic of Work Depression – Breaking the Chains

The Hidden Epidemic of Work Depression – Breaking the Chains

When you think about your work, does it seem like a dark cloud encompasses you, and you get an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach? Depression in the workplace is at an all-time high and can seriously impact your well-being and mental health. In this article, CARE confronts work-induced depression and helps you to navigate the complexities of work depression with strategies to reclaim joy and passion.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Mental Health
12 min read · Mar 05, 2024

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Table of content

What Is Work Depression?

Work-related depression can arise when the demands and stressors of the work environment overwhelm your ability to cope, leading to feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and a lack of interest in things that once brought you joy. [1]

Every year, depression affects over 17 million American adults. The State of Mental Health in America did a survey in 2021 that revealed a significant rise in people seeking assistance for depression, with a 62 % increase in participants in the survey's depression screening from 2019 to 2020. Moreover, of those participants, 80 % exhibited signs of moderate to severe depression. Given that full-time workers spend an average of 8.5 hours with their colleagues and at their workplace during weekdays, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's hardly surprising that so many encounter depressive symptoms if that environment leaves them feeling bad. [2]

The root causes of low mood at work or depressive symptoms often stem from a toxic work culture, unrealistic job expectations, or a lack of support and recognition, which can make you feel isolated and undervalued. If you experience major depression in the workplace, you will find it difficult to perform your daily tasks, leading to decreased productivity and even more stress, creating a vicious cycle. If you have experienced burnout, characterized by extreme fatigue and disengagement from your job, you may be more susceptible to developing clinical depression related to your workplace. [3]

You must acknowledge and recognize the signs of work-related depression early and seek professional help to address these mental health problems before they escalate. CARE is here to take you by the hand and give you a profound insight into the symptoms of work depression, its causes, and a silver-lining to break the chains that keep you from living a fulfilled and happy life, personal and professional.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Work Depression?

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The symptoms of depression related to your work are uniquely experienced by every person. Still, there are some common symptoms that are reported by many people who have work depression:

Mental Health Problems

The most prominent symptom of work depression is experiencing mental health problems. If you are generally in a low mood, exhibit feelings of worthlessness or even think about self-harm, these are severe and typical symptoms of major depressive disorder. [1]


Absenteeism is when you regularly and habitually miss work without valid reasons (except unconsciously guarding your mental health), disrupting your workplace's operations and your productivity. It's often a symptom of work depression, as you might avoid your work environment, tasks, or colleagues due to your mental health struggles, leading you to stay away from work, sometimes even without notifying your team. [3]

Loss of Productivity

Maybe you have already missed a lot of days at work because you can’t bear to be there or simply feel overwhelmed. Naturally, this results in lost productivity, difficulty in decision-making, and issues in your everyday work tasks as your responsibilities keep piling up. A study showed that depression indeed interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time. [3]

Substance Use

Substance use can emerge as a coping mechanism for you if you're dealing with work depression, as you might turn to alcohol, drugs, or other substances in an attempt to manage or dull your feelings of sadness, stress, or disengagement from your job. This behavior can signal the presence of work-related depression but also exacerbates your mental health issues, creating a harmful cycle that affects both your mental and physical health. [1]

Physical Symptoms

Your mental health is linked to your physical health. Therefore, experiencing physical symptoms like stomachaches, headaches, irregular heartbeats, and fluctuating blood pressure can be your body's response to the stress of work depression, showcasing the intricate link between your emotional state and physical health. These signs emphasize the importance of addressing mental and physical well-being together for a comprehensive approach to managing stress and depression in the workplace. [2]


Burnout can both stem from and act as a symptom of work depression, presenting itself through overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism towards your job, loss of interest in your personal life, and a sense of ineffectiveness and meaninglessness at work. As you navigate the challenges of work depression, burnout may intensify these feelings, leading to a cycle where both conditions feed off each other, exacerbating your mental and emotional strain. Recognizing and addressing burnout is crucial in breaking this cycle, enabling you to restore your mental health and regain your professional fulfillment. [4]

What Are the Possible Reasons for Work Depression?

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Job depression arises from a complex interplay of factors in your professional environment that negatively impact your mental health and general well-being. Understanding the various causes of depression and potential triggers that can lead to this condition is crucial for you to address and manage it effectively.

CARE has summarized some possible causes for your work depression:

Not Practicing Enough Self-Care

Neglecting your physical and emotional needs, such as adequate sleep, healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and relaxation, can leave you more vulnerable to job-related stress and work depression. Prioritize yourself when you are not working, and do not neglect yourself while working. Take sufficient lunch breaks during work, and tend to your hobbies and social life when off work.

Toxic Work Environment

Working in a place where negativity, harassment, or bullying is tolerated and commonly practiced is unhealthy and can lead to feelings of powerlessness and work depression. A toxic work environment is characterized by a hostile culture that can severely impact an employee's well-being, leading to stress, anxiety, and low morale. A toxic work environment typically consists of strained or unsupportive relationships at work, which leave you feeling alone and isolated. [5]

Job Insecurity

Have there recently or regularly been layoffs at your company? Worrying about your job stability or fearing redundancy can be a significant cause of stress and work depression. Your work supports you and your family and is your main source of income. Your capability to pay your bills is one of our basic human needs, and fearing being able to do so installs a deep fear and insecurity in ourselves.

Mismatch Between Job and Personal Values

Are you a vegetarian working for a major meat company? Chances are that this will leave you feeling unfulfilled and depressed. Working in a role or organization that conflicts with your ethics or values can cause internal conflict and lead to depressive feelings because you feel like you are betraying your character and losing your identity. When looking for a new job or building a company, ensure your values align with the company.

Overwhelming Workloads

Constant high demands of work without adequate support or recognition can lead to burnout and depression, especially if the tasks are not possible to fulfill within your resources or skills. You may even get tasks or projects that are not your responsibility or field of expertise. Communicate this clearly with your superior, and let them know about reasonable deadlines and when workloads exceed what is possible.

What Can You Do if You Experience Work-Related Depression?

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Suppose you think “my work is making me depressed”. In that case, it is important that you apply some interventions and lifestyle changes to gain back your mental health and break the vicious cycle where your workplace detrimentally affects your well-being.

Establish a Work-Life Balance

A work-life balance is vital for your mental health. But what does this imply? Establishing a work-life balance involves setting clear boundaries between your professional workday and personal life, such as dedicating specific times for work (working hours) and rest (weekends, days off and holidays), and making time for activities that rejuvenate you. This balance is crucial in preventing and combating work depression because it allows you to decompress, reduces stress, and helps maintain your mental health, ensuring you're not overwhelmed by work demands.

By prioritizing your well-being and creating a harmonious balance between work and your personal needs, you safeguard your mental health, enhance your productivity, and improve your overall quality of life. [6]

Take Your Break

While Gen-Z is making fun of millennials and baby boomers for their strict and dedicated work ethic that often lacks a healthy work-life balance, it is indeed not necessary to skip your lunch and keep on working when you are supposed to take your break. Taking a break during your workday can significantly combat work depression by providing you with the necessary mental and physical respite from work-related stress and cognitive demands. These pauses allow you to recharge, reduce stress levels, and gain a fresh perspective, making you more effective and less prone to the negative effects of prolonged work stress.

Moreover, stepping away from your work environment, even briefly, can help you maintain a better emotional balance, fostering resilience against work-related challenges.

Take Mental Health Days

If you wake up already feeling overwhelmed or in a depressed mood, you should consider taking a mental health day. Our mental and physical health are intricately connected, and practicing mental hygiene is important. Taking a mental health day offers you a valuable opportunity to step back from the pressures of your work environment and focus on your well-being, acting as a preventive measure against work depression. It allows you to address and manage symptoms of stress, anxiety, or emerging depression by engaging in self-care, relaxation, or professional support, helping to reset your emotional and mental state.

Reach Out to the Employee Assistance Program

Reaching out to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a crucial step you can take when facing work depression or issues with your mental health concerning your work. EAP is a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal and professional problems affecting their job performance, health, and mental and emotional well-being. By providing confidential access to professional counseling and support services, EAPs offer guidance and resources to alleviate stress, enhance your coping strategies, and improve overall mental health.

Leveraging this support helps you manage your work-related challenges and underscores the importance of prioritizing your mental well-being, ensuring you have the necessary tools and support to thrive in every aspect of life.

Talk to a Loved One

Talking to a loved one about your experiences with work depression or mental health issues at work can be an invaluable source of support and comfort. A conversation with someone you trust and love can offer you a safe space to express your feelings, receive empathy, and perhaps gain new perspectives on your situation, which can significantly lighten your emotional burden.

Can Working From Home or Remote Work Cause Depression?

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The scientific database for whether remote working can cause depression is mixed. In fact, for some people, working from home is beneficial for their mental health and general well-being, while other people experience feelings of loneliness and stress. [7]

Commuting to and from work can be a source of stress for some, and many people specifically search for jobs with the option to work remotely. Others experience the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life in a home setting with increased stress. [7]

Therefore, how remote work affects your mental health is often a matter of your personality type.

Ask yourself these questions: Are you good at organizing yourself and maintaining boundaries between your personal life while working from home? How well are you connected socially outside of work? Do you feel more or less productive while working remotely? Do you like going to the office?

Answering these questions can help you determine whether you might profit from working from home or miss out on something you value and enjoy.

How Is Work-induced Depression Treated?

Suppose you experience feelings of depression correlated to your work. In that case, there are different approaches to treating work-induced depression, including therapy, mental health apps, and taking your preventative healthcare into your own hands.

Knowing that support and solutions can help you find relief and regain your footing is essential.

Consultations With Mental Health Professionals

The journey to recovery often begins with a comprehensive approach to your mental health, which includes consulting with a professional in psychiatry or psychology. This step can help identify the best treatment plan tailored to your specific needs, potentially including antidepressants to manage chemical imbalances that contribute to clinical depression.

Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be incredibly effective and improve your behavioral health. CBT helps you address and reshape negative thought patterns and behaviors that fuel depression, teaching you strategies to cope with stress and challenge unhelpful thinking.

Mental Health Apps

There's also a wealth of digital support through apps designed to promote mental health, offering tools for mindfulness, stress management, and connecting with therapeutic resources right at your fingertips.

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. With the right support, including professional guidance, you can navigate your way out of the shadow of work-induced depression towards a brighter, more balanced future.

Take Your Preventative Healthcare Into Your Own Hands

Our healthcare system focuses on treating illnesses when they have already manifested. Preventative healthcare is an important step to prioritizing your health and staying healthy.

A membership with CARE helps you unlock your health potential and detect changes or potential health gaps before more severe health issues can manifest. Being a CARE member gives you access to regular health assessments, in-depth blood analysis, and personal face-to-face consultations with our healthcare professionals in our modern practice.

When Should I Seek Help for Work Depression?

If you're feeling overwhelmed by depression due to work, it's crucial to recognize when to seek help. Consider your situation carefully: if you're experiencing persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or difficulty concentrating, these can be indicators of depression (major depressive disorder).

Additionally, if you're aware of personal risk factors or a family history of mental health conditions, it's imperative to be vigilant about your mental well-being. Severe depression doesn't just affect your emotional state; it can impact every aspect of your life, including your physical health, job performance, and personal relationships.

If your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, interfere significantly with your daily functions, or if you find yourself thinking about self-harm, it's time to seek professional help.

There's no shame in reaching out for support; addressing mental health conditions early can lead to more effective management and swift recovery. Remember, prioritizing your mental health is a sign of strength and an important step towards healing.

Should I Quit a Job That's Bad for My Mental Health?

If you find yourself working in a toxic workplace tolerated or enforced by your superiors, you should consider removing yourself from this unhealthy environment.

Before making any decisions, seek advice from a mental health professional who can provide tailored guidance and support. Sometimes, we lack the coping mechanisms or communication skills that leave us feeling overwhelmed in objectively tolerable work situations. A mental healthcare provider can help you assess the severity of your situation and explore coping strategies or adjustments that might alleviate your distress if you find your working environment or colleagues are not the root of your depression.

Accessing mental health services through your employee assistance program can also offer insights and resources that could improve your situation without resigning.

However, if you've exhausted these avenues and your job continues to affect your well-being detrimentally, prioritizing your health is paramount. Leaving a toxic work environment or switching to a different career avenue or less demanding position can sometimes be the most effective way to protect and improve your mental health, allowing you to focus on a more suitable and fulfilling career.

Remember, your health and well-being are invaluable, and seeking a work environment that supports your mental health is wise and necessary for your long-term happiness and success.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!