Depression in the Workplace

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about depression and work:

I have suffered with depression most of my life. Recently I have had a wave hit me again and I have missed work due to it. Is it possible to obtain a doctors note for this ongoing illness?

Signed, Concerned

Dear Concerned:

You are correct to have your medical or mental health professional provide your employer or HR section with a letter stating that you have a chronic situation which is being treated. That is especially the case if you may need accommodation from your employer about it. (For example, use of sick time or perhaps an occasional flex-schedule or time to meet with your counselor or doctor.)Letting your employer or the HR section of your organization know about it is also a way to ensure that both you and they are aware of rights and responsibilities about the illness and the treatment. It will also allow your HR person or others to clarify what accommodations can be made if needed and what cannot. (I am assuming your work is not of the nature that would have specific limitations on various mental and physical conditions, due to safety or security.)I’m sure your mental health professional has prepared similar notifications for others, but if not, ask him or her to look for resources within a mental health association in your city or region or among his or her colleagues.

These statements are becoming more common as such illnesses are “de-stigmatized”. If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program that person or group may also have suggestions about how the memo should be structured and what to expect about it.Such a memo should also have a statement courteously reminding the person to whom it is being given that the information should be provided only on a need to know basis and that you want to be notified of those who are told about it. That isn’t unreasonable and it assures you of privacy.

Your HR section or whoever the memo goes to, according to your organization, may want to meet with you to discuss their concerns (how you are effected by medication, how much time might you take off, etc.) At the same time you can express your commitment to doing well at work and continuing your treatment as you would with any other illness. You might also be able to state what you will do to ensure that your work is maintained at its current high level, or whatever type of statement is appropriate for your expected work product. I think you would find it useful to have a similar statement accompany the one from your mental health professional, so it is clear from the beginning that you are getting treatment for an illness but that you have been an effective employee and will continue to be.One thing I have observed about working with friends and colleagues who have had mental health issues is that staying effective at work helps in every other way…just as staying physically healthy helps and having positive relationships away from work helps. But, work is a big part of our lives, so if you can feel better about that, it will certainly contribute to your wellness overall. Best wishes to you as you continue with your program of care. You seem to have a good approach to it.

Tina Lewis Rowe