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Depression

Work and education issues for people with depression

Work
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.

 

After having mania and being released from hospital she had debts and became depressed, and so...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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I got out [of hospital] just before Christmas in 98, I just crashed from a great, great height, yeah I think I was.... I was still quite high when I came out and that's why I should have been kept in because they'd have been able to catch me because I was basically, I was going to fall from mania, I was going to crash down at some point. and I worked over Christmas, that was the Christmas when I was doing some charity work. I was working for [organisation], at a hostel over the Christmas period and it was so depressing.  And then I just plummeted and I was, I was so depressed and I knew I was depressed and I was so suicidal and I had, good God, you know, I had seventeen thousand pounds worth of debt.

Seventeen grand?

And I had to get back to work to pay it off and it was also clear that I couldn't work. I wasn't in a fit state to work, I was far too depressed and I was worthless and how did I let this happen. And of course actually that spending is all part of mania. Just as retribution is part of depression, so it was, "Mea culpa, mea culpa", I've mucked it all up, you know, it's all my fault. So in January of 99, probably about mid January, third week or so something like that, I tried to kill myself.

 
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Found it hard to accept that depression was a legitimate reason to be off work, felt guilty and...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 26
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I got to see the occupational health officer at work pretty much straight away. He called her and said, you know, "He really needs you to see him now". And she sat down in the office, talked about a few things, about how I was feeling. She asked me a few questions about, you know, had I been having difficulty sleeping, had I been having difficulty concentrating and things like that and she said, "It sounds like you've got symptoms of depression now". So she suggested I go and see my GP that day, which I did. And the GP signed me off. I don't remember initially how long it was for, possibly a week, two weeks, I was signed off work. 

And they just basically advised me just to relax, try just not to think about work, not to feel any pressure about going back to work. My GP said, "You know, you're under no obligation to go back to work, the most important thing is your health, that you relax"'. There was a lot of guilt there, there was a lot of pressure thinking no, I should be at work. You know, just because I had this bad day, I should be at work, I'm expected to be at work. You know, everyone is probably at work saying, "Why isn't he here, he hasn't got a broken leg, you know, ok he just had a really bad day, but you know he should be here, we all have bad days!'

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.

 
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Her depression lifted but left her lacking confidence, yet she was fortunate to be able to...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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And what happened was the depression gradually went. It didn't go over night, and I - I saw the clinical psychologist again, and I remember her saying to me I think your depression has lifted, but it's left you very unconfident and very anxious. But I could see the black moods had gone, but I had become very anxious in social situations. I managed to go back to work, again I went for half a day, then a day, then gradually built up to the three days I'm doing now, and for a little while I just shadowed other people. I could do the job, but when it came to sitting in the staff room and talking generally I wouldn't say anything because I just felt so anxious about how people perceived me because I'd been so ill. And what were they thinking, and were they thinking if I could do the job? So I found that very difficult, and I also found it very difficult with other people in other settings.
 
 

Even though he thought redundancy would affect his mental health, it did not, and he got another...

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Age at interview: 73
Sex: Male
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Then suddenly there was a great big redundancy in the car industry, there were eighteen thousand of us made redundant all in one go. Now I thought that would scupper me but it didn't, it didn't affect me at all mentally because I was able then, within a very short time, to get a job in the electricity industry. And work-wise it was a good job, worked up and got good wages, did standby duty which brought in a retainer, money retainer. And during the faults and that we would work through the night, and that gave us the day off next day, but it also gave us a big boost in our earnings because after certain times we were on double pay.

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).

 

She loved her work and was a perfectionist, but after redundancies at work she was doing...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 40
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Works had always been really important to me and I'm more like a perfectionist. So everything has to be a 100%, you know, and all that. And I got made promotion several times with my job, and then suddenly, I think like many companies, people started making people redundant, and requesting people to take on more and more and more. In the end I was doing the job 5 people used to do. I was enjoying it. I enjoyed it to the point where it was just getting, physically it was just getting an impossibility. But I'd always loved my job, but it was then becoming that I was away 5, 6 days a week, getting home and I couldn't get away from work basically, because I would get back here and there would be faxes and messages and goodness knows what and..... A lot of my job was travelling a lot I was covering a huge area, not just the UK. And one day I just sort of came home after I had been away for a week, parked my car outside, sat on the pavement and just broke down, basically.
 
 
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Found she couldn't cope with a situation at work, broke down in tears and went home sick.

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 39
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And one of the ladies who knows me, she's had depression before and so she knows what it's like anyway. Excuse the way I speak but I had a fit recently at work, I had a couple of fits basically, and the one where she... the, the one that she helped me.... well she helped me on both. Basically, one, one day they put me out on this run. And when I found out the run I was doing I said, "I don't want to do it," I says, "its too heavy." And they, they said, "All right, [participant's name], we'll change you around and come back, come and work in the morning and we'll have changed you around." And when I got to work the following day they hadn't, and I was shaking and I said, "I can't handle this," I said. "I can't do that run." And the girl I was meant to be working with, she, she was there as well. And I was in the toilets crying and I said, "I can't do this." So I went, I went home sick.
 
 
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Even though the proposal he was working on was successful, he had to work with a man who he...

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
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In November I was very stressed at work and I was being challenged in a kind of very negative way, and there is this guy who doesn't like me and I don't like him. And so, I was kind of being pushed to my limits of' I was challenged all the time, blah, blah, blah. So I had basically to produce' I was putting a proposal for a client, a very important client to the company and I did this without any support'. And the guy I was working with was saying that what I was doing wasn't good enough, but in a very negative way. And I felt really, I've never felt in my life so kind of'. feeling that I wasn't capable, unable to perform. I did suspect he might have been homophobic. At the same time I think the first symptoms of depression started with me losing interest in sex, and I'm a very sexual person, so it was totally lost' And then after Christmas I got back to work and in my first week in January this year, I learned that I had been successful in this proposal so that gave me a boost.

 

Her boss was a bully and people were relieved when he wasn't around. Her anger towards him turned...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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Well it's like the company from hell you know. And I had the boss from hell. I mean he... he just, he seemed to really get off on power. He didn't.... if he could provoke a strong emotion in people, he didn't mind. If it was hatred, that was fine. You know he didn't have any need for people to like him. He didn't make any attempt to respect people so they would respect him. You know he just ruled by fear, intimidation, bullying.... and because I worked alongside of him most of the time, I used to joke that I ought to have 'whipping boy' on my job description. Because if he was mad at that guy I got it. You know.

How did you cope with being anxious and this awful bullying boss?

Well it was the worst combination I could have had really because I would just... all the anger I felt towards him I just turned inwards because I, you know, I wasn't confident enough to yell at him. And, in fact, the whole company... he had somehow got such an awful hold on the whole company that everyone was the same really. People just avoided him, you know, breathed a sigh of relief when he was out of the office for a few days on business.

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.

 
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She was not getting the help she needed to do her work, her director had been bullying her, but...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 40
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And I wasn't getting the help that I had been told I was going to get for some of the training sessions that I was suppose to be doing. Because it was basically a physical impossibility for me to be in 2 or 3 different places at the same time and I had been told that I would get.... it was part of the new agreement in my contract that I would be getting the help during this particular time of the year. And only later to be told by the Director that if I couldn't do it by myself, what had I been doing all these years? And so it was a little bit of bullying really, which is another story altogether because one of the seminars that I went on actually covered one of those items. And in that case the company kind of supported me because they know I could sue them basically, not that I would because I just couldn't be bothered dealing with it. But because all the work and I, mentally I just couldn't take it any more...

Because of exhaustion, bullying, burnout?

Yes, I mean, people all knew how much I put into my work and how important it was to me. And yes I had this person who come along, and basically told me I wasn't doing the job. And gone back on what we he had previously agreed on. Whether it was to, I don't know... Anyway since he'd left the company, he had been asked to leave the company because he had be doing it to several people. But yes in that sense I have to say it was partly to do with just an impossibility of work overload.
 
 
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Her boss was very supportive, and organised her work so that she could cope with her tasks.

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Age at interview: 60
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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And for me, the way that university used to get rid of people was they would put you in a job that you didn't like. It wasn't your boss that does the hiring and firing, it's the personnel department, and she'd put you in a job you didn't like so you would go. Well I was told that you know because I wasn't well and things I was told that I was going to be moved to another job. So when I came back from personnel he said, 'What did they say?', so I told him. He said not a word and walked out and he was gone for about an hour and he came back and he said [pause], 'You will never hear from them again' [pause]. Not a lot of people would do that [pause], not a lot of people would do that. And he wouldn't give me a, I mean it was a heck of a busy job, I was working for the entire research team and the students and him and everything else. And he said, 'Right that's it, I'll give you one job at a time, you won't go home to feel sorry for yourself, I'll give you one job at a time' [laugh]. 'Do that, type that and I'll give you something else'. And how many people would put up with that? You know that was tremendous. We would all have walked on hot coals for him because he just did those things for everybody, you know. You'd never get that in industry, would you?
 

Education

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.

 

He was bullied in secondary school and felt school was a nightmare. He sometimes thought of suicide.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
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And then when I went to the secondary school when I was 11 I got a shock very quickly because I was being bullied very, very quickly. And this sort of bullying hadn't really happened at junior school, it was much smaller and was much more friendly and... but suddenly there were these bigger boys and they called me a sissy and I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know for years what that meant but they obviously had it in for me, as we would have said at the time. They.... I got chased, they did everything they could to scare me by bringing in things like grass snakes and chased me round the playground. There wasn't much physical violence, although I certainly got punched and kicked a lot, but I mean it wasn't, it wasn't anything more than bruises. But I certainly felt very intimidated by them. 

And certainly by about 13, 14 I had this life which was at home quite happy, but which at school was really a nightmare. And I used to come home from school... I can remember coming home. We had a gas cooker in those days and I used to think it would be so easy to stick my head in it. That's what people used to do years ago before they had self-lighting ovens [laughs]. I used to sit and I thought well I can't do that to my mother, you know, because my mother needs me. I can't do that to her.

 
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Negative reactions to her speaking up in class as a child make her still unwilling to speak in...

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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And I really don't remember if it was just a reaction that I had, or if I just decided. I can imagine myself doing it. Just thinking, right then, they don't want me to say anything in class, I won't say anything in class. But somehow it evolved so that I couldn't, could not say anything. Like if I had to, I would just be like sweating and just hated it, I really hated it. But what upsets me about it is that it affects my life now, and it affected my life for'. you know once I got to University there was no problem with me speaking up because everyone was in the same boat. No one was going to go, 'Oh you think you're really good', because I was like pretty average for my University. But the fear was still there and it's taken, even now, you know I find it hard to speak up at meetings and stuff like that, I find it really difficult.
 

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”.

 
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Although intelligent and hoping to enjoy University, he couldn't organise himself there or...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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But, moving on to University, yes I was saying that I was supposed to be quite intelligent, but I hadn't worked out how to do stuff in a structured way, how to get myself going, how to really organise my time. I hadn't had that much contact with kids my own age outside school before, so at university the idea of having a social life was quite new. And I think, although I had hopes when I went there, within a few months, I found it wasn't at all enjoyable. I felt more, I didn't seem to be able to enjoy any of the things that I tried at first, and I was just feeling very low and very lonely, needy. I was aware I needed something, I wasn't quite sure what. And I was, I think, probably about 4 or 5 months after starting my first year, I did become very depressed, actually, and just took to moping around.

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.

 

She was very bright, but her anxiety about her exams was so extreme that she quit University.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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And I just thought this isn't worth it. I can't, I can't stand any more of this. You know, I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping well, and I just felt so ill all the time with anxiety. So I quit. I quit University, which was absolutely heartbreaking. Got the exam results actually just before I quit and I'd come top of the whole year in physics and maths. You know. I was a smart lady, which is part of the pressure because when you're intelligent, people assume it's easy for you, you know. Oh you'll walk through these exams and..... It never... maybe I would have done, but it never, ever felt like that. It felt like I'd got to study my socks off to pass exams.

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.

 

Her tutor had to be told about her suicide attempt and was sympathetic - many students had mental...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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And because I was over eighteen, obviously they couldn't tell any of my family. But because I was living in a hall in college, ironically they had to let my tutor know because he was in loco parentis. So I found myself on a Sunday night going straight up to my tutor's house so I could tell him the full story before the hospital got in touch with him the next day. And he was devastated and very sympathetic and the scenario wasn't uncommon. Already he had another student who was reading English in the [hospital] at [city]. He visited.... I mean he had lots of artistic friends who'd been in and out of psychiatric units, he knew the whole set up very well. And the only thing he had to do was he had to inform the Master, because I was living in college.
 

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated April 2015.

 

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