Depression can affect many areas of your life, including your energy, motivation, and focus.

If you live with major depressive disorder (MDD), simply getting through each day can seem overwhelming, so you might have days when managing your career feels out of reach.

As many as 80% of people living with depression experience challenges that can impact how they perform certain functions in their daily lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you’re one of them, it can help to know how depression might impact your career and what you can do about it.

The American Psychiatric Association describes depression as a medical condition that’s common and serious. Like many medical conditions, depression can impact your ability to work.

The CDC estimates that 9.5% of the U.S. adult population will experience a depressive condition. For 27% of them, the impact on their home and work life can be significant.

Depression isn’t a character flaw or something that’s your fault. Instead, it’s a condition that can result from several factors, such as:

  • chemical differences in the brain
  • genetics
  • family history
  • personality type
  • environmental influences, such as stress or adverse childhood experiences

These factors can contribute to depression by changing how your brain works. This can lead to emotional and physical health concerns that may interfere with your career in several ways.

Reduced cognitive performance

The CDC indicates that as many as 35% of people living with depression may experience a reduction in cognitive performance. This is your ability to acquire and use information.

Cognitive performance affects workplace competencies such as:

  • decision making
  • task completion
  • problem-solving
  • communication
  • organizational ability
  • learning capacity
  • memory
  • focus
  • leadership
  • productivity

While cognitive difficulties associated with MDD can happen more often during depressive episodes, they can still occur during remission as much as 44% of the time. So, even if your MDD symptoms are lower, you may still experience some cognitive impairment at work.


Depression connects to higher rates of absenteeism from work. It also links to more presenteeism.


Presenteeism is reduced functioning at work from an issue such as an illness or condition that can result in productivity loss.

A 2019 study found a relationship between the severity of depression symptoms and absenteeism and presenteeism. The connection persisted even when the researchers controlled for factors such as age, industry, and gender.

The study also found that absenteeism connected to behavioral symptoms, and cognitive symptoms contributed more to presenteeism.

A study from 2015 found that depression linked with future long-term absenteeism, particularly when depression co-occurred with anxiety.

Social impairments

MDD can interfere with the way you interact with your work colleagues. It can affect social functioning in several areas.

Attachment and affiliation:

  • difficulty experiencing social enjoyment
  • rejection sensitivity
  • increased altruistic punishment
  • competition avoidance

Social communication and perception:

  • reduced cooperativeness and empathy
  • lack of emotion recognition
  • difficulty understanding other people’s viewpoints

Not only does MDD interfere with how you connect with co-workers, but this impaired connection can also worsen depression symptoms.

Slower movements and speech

Known as psychomotor retardation (PMR), this slowing of mental processes and motor responses is a core feature of MDD.

PMR can cause slowing in:

  • facial movements
  • speech
  • gestures
  • fine motor skills
  • gait

A small 2018 study suggested that PMR might result from brain differences, such as dopamine metabolism abnormalities and smaller caudate nuclei — brain regions that process reward, motivation, and emotion.

Physical health concerns

Pain and depression often occur together. Experts estimated that about 65% of people living with depression may also experience pain.

Research suggests that immunological abnormalities involving neuroinflammation and cytokines might change the central nervous system and lead to depression. One theory for this is that inflammatory cytokines can lead to neurotransmitter depletion.

Sometimes physical health concerns arise from depression coping mechanisms, such as binge eating or substance misuse. There’s also a link between depression and stress, which can contribute to heart disease.

Depression isn’t something you can schedule for when you’re alone at home. Having strategies to manage MDD at work can help.

It’s beneficial for everyone involved if your supervisors know that your symptoms stem from a medical condition rather than reflecting a lack of commitment to your career.


Telling your employer about your depression can result in support, understanding, and accommodations, such as scheduling flexibility or work-at-home days.

Talk with your co-workers or friends

When you’re feeling depressed, you may have a tendency to separate yourself from others at work. Avoiding people at work can make it more difficult to get through your day.

It’s OK to let a co-worker or colleague know how you’re feeling and that you may need additional support that day.

But if you don’t feel comfortable discussing your mental health at work, phoning a close friend might help lighten the load for the day.

Break up tasks

If you’re assigned a project or significant area of responsibility and feel overwhelmed, a strategy known as chunking may help. This is when you take a large task and break it into smaller pieces.

You may find it easier to start smaller tasks. As you complete each one, you may experience a sense of accomplishment.

Set boundaries

Setting boundaries can help you regulate the stress that can contribute to depression. Asking for help, a deadline extension, or delegating tasks are examples of ways that you can manage stress.

Personalize your space

Decorating your workspace may help ease MDD symptoms. Family photos, a plant, artwork, or motivational quotes are examples of decor items that can elevate your mood.

Take a break

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, taking a break may help. Walking away from your desk for a few moments may be just what you need to refocus and reenergize.

Work break tips

Instead of zoning out at your desk, try these tips:

  • Do some deep breathing or meditation exercises.
  • Take a walk outside.
  • Go to another room and watch a funny video.
  • Walk to a coffee shop and grab your favorite drink.
  • Get up and take a walk around the office building.
  • Call a friend.

Communicating with your employer about your MDD can help you gain access to helpful accommodations.

Employee assistance programs

Your employer may have an employee assistance program (EAP) to provide support in areas that can impact your work or home life. Many EAPs offer counseling, as well as information and resources.

EAP services

Employee assistance programs offer a variety of services that may be helpful, including:

  • financial and legal services
  • assessment, counseling, and referrals
  • educational resources
  • management consultation and counseling
  • emergency planning

To find out more about the EAP program offered by your employer, contact the human resource department.

Insurance coverage

The Affordable Care Act provides mental health coverage by ensuring that most small employer and individual health insurance plans cover mental health services.

You can visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Health Insurance and Mental Health Services page for more information.

Depression is a medical condition that can impact multiple areas of your life, including your career. MDD isn’t your fault, and you deserve the support that can help you feel better and thrive.

MDD can affect your energy, memory, thinking, social interactions, and more. It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed, but there is help available.

Your employer may be able to offer accommodations that can make your work life more manageable. Also, depression treatment prescribed by a mental health professional is often effective.

If you ever feel emotional distress that might lead to self-harm, it’s important to let someone know. There is crisis support available:

  • Crisis text line — text HOME to 741741, or visit for 24/7 support
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 9-8-8, for 24/7 toll-free support
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