Work and education issues for people with depression

Most people we talked to could work in the long run, despite being affected by depression. Many said their work was satisfying and rewarding. Nevertheless, many depressed people cannot work, and this could add to their negative feelings about themselves. Many needed to be signed off by a doctor while depressed, and resumed work when they got better. Interestingly, people can feel that taking time off work for depression is not legitimate, and they struggle to accept the situation.

Whether or not people could continue to work as they did before depression depended on the severity of their depression, what work they did and the flexibility of their employers and work environment. Most people worked full time or claimed benefits to live, but some we talked to had changed to less demanding jobs, taken up voluntary work, reduced their work or retired early (see also 'Life and money issues of people with depression').

Some found that anxiety and depression made it harder to find and keep work. Depression can affect confidence and ability to concentrate, which can increase anxieties about returning to work. Being able to return to work gradually could help people to regain confidence. As discussed in the summary 'Distraction, activities and creativity', voluntary work can also help people to regain confidence and get back into the workforce. Although being out of work can contribute to negative thinking, people can also bounce back well after being out of work.

A number of people had met situations at work they could not cope with. The build-up of work pressures contributed to depression for several. Some people actually 'flipped out' at work when they were very stressed. Some had even been bullied at work, which could contribute to depression. When the boss is a bully, it is particularly difficult to cope (for more information see MIND’s guide how to be mentally healthy at work).

People with depression don't always lack support at work. Some companies recognise their duty of care to protect employees from stress and bullying' some people described colleagues and bosses who were most understanding about their depression, and tried to support them.


Schools often dealt badly with people who were different (e.g. highly intelligent, sensitive, homosexual). People who were considered different sometimes had to deal with the negative messages directed at them. Some found that even teachers were unfriendly towards them. Like workplaces, the schoolyard had its bullies. Bullying could be so distressing that some thought about suicide to escape it. Events at school could affect people into their adult lives. For instance, one young woman still had trouble speaking up after she felt discouraged from speaking up in school as a child.

Moving from primary into secondary school could be difficult for some, yet others could rise to the challenge. Similarly, while some people took to university life well, others found that they lacked the skills to cope. Many very bright school students found that they were quite average among all the other bright students at university. Some came to accept that “somewhere in the middle is OK”.

Several people said that exams added to their anxieties and stresses. One bright woman gave up university after her first year because she could not cope with the anxiety that accompanied exams. Others did not study for exams because they lacked interest and were depressed. Some who dropped out of higher education returned to study later in life.

Many people knew of other students with depression, even students who had been in hospital for it. One woman guessed that half of her friends from university had depression that was 'worse' than hers. Fortunately most students with depression could access counselling on campus.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated April 2015.



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