How I cope with depression at work: a personal story

Written by Monika Behrens

Depression can be overwhelming, so it is not surprising that it can affect people in the workplace. In this personal update, Monika Behrens, Associate Director, shares some of her experiences of depression at work and highlights four of the supportive initiatives that our organization has in place.

How it began

For me, it was shortly after the birth of my son that something was not okay, but in the hustle and bustle around the birth, nobody noticed anything, and I was overwhelmed with the situation and did not pay attention. Only a few years later, when managing a toddler and working again, I had the feeling that I was heading directly towards burnout. 

I was lucky – having worked in pharmaceuticals for many years, including launching an antidepressant, I was familiar with the theory of depression, and could identify the symptoms when they hit me; that it is the strong, continuing feeling of sadness without logical explanation, and difficulty in finding motivation or not being able to focus. In addition, the disease found its vent in psychosomatic complaints; I had bronchitis, over and over again. 

My experience of depression is no secret either at work or at home 

For me, part of managing my depression has been to make sure it is not a secret or a taboo with colleagues, friends, and family. 

My son calls it “Mama’s turtle time.” Just as a turtle withdraws into its shell for protection, I have moments when I pull in and nothing looks out. In these moments my son knows what to expect, he understands that I need peace and that it will pass. 

Photo: courtesy of Janssen-Cilag Germany 

How do you know that you are experiencing depression? 

Most people will feel down or sad at some stage – these feelings are entirely normal. It is important that you are aware of the triggers, feelings, and thoughts that accompany depression, so you can distinguish between passing feelings of sadness or stress that most people feel at some point, and the persistent, potentially more damaging symptoms that characterize depression. 

What can you do if you are feeling depressed at work? 

Jumping back to when I was close to a burnout, the first professional I reached out to was a neuropsychiatrist who diagnosed dysthymia (former medical term: chronic depression) accompanied by the odd acute depressive episode. I was prescribed my first antidepressant and at the same time started psychotherapy in parallel. 

At the same point in time, my manager, the human resources team, and I decided I could take a 3 month break from work. That was 9 years ago. Since then I work in my permanent job 30% of the time; and every now and then I work as a freelance lecturer. I am fortunate that I can divide my work depending on both the workload and my mental health. 

I also joined the “fighting depression together” campaign of Janssen-Cilag Germany to demonstrate how important it is to raise awareness. You can find my testimonial and others here: Erfahrungsberichte Depression: Monikas Geschichte | JanssenWithMe 

Having said that, I can only advise to try to be open about your mental health; I have had positive experiences privately and professionally when I have been open with others. Usually, people are understanding and open to help with your requirements, like not joining a weekend hike with friends, or postponing a deadline. 

I live with the fact that depression is part of me and something I can usually manage. I am a fighter. I have made positive changes, I take my medication meticulously, I have regular check-ins with a therapist, and I know my triggers and how to avoid or soften them. These are the ways how I handle things, and my family and I are now doing very well. 

4 ways my employer supports colleagues with their mental health at work 

PRMA Consulting, part of Fishawack Health, recognizes that wellbeing and performance are linked. Improving colleagues’ ability to handle the pressures that can contribute to depression can help to improve individual and organizational performance. 

When I had my almost burnout back in 2013, PRMA Consulting already lived up to the standards that are put into a well-designed mental health support system for all employees today. 

Here are 4 ways that the company maintains a healthy work environment across our international network. 

1. The Mental Health Alliance Employee Network Group

The Mental Health Alliance is an Employee Network Group (ENG) within Fishawack Health; one of 6 diversity and inclusion ENGs that serve our international teams. 

The Mental Health Alliance focuses on the full spectrum of mental health – whether someone is in crisis, struggling periodically, seeking preventative measures, supporting others, or anything in between. We do this in several ways: 

  • Education and conversation: creating awareness and open conversation around mental health to build an understanding of what it is, why it’s important, and to reduce fear and stigma. 
  • Practical employee support: building holistic wellbeing for all colleagues and support practices that make for a healthy mind at work and beyond – from prevention to crisis. 

2. Employee wellbeing policy

Our ‘Employee Wellbeing Policy’ is introduced to new colleagues as part of their induction. It outlines the services available to them and normalizes the language of mental health as something we are comfortable to talk about. 

3. Employee Assistance

Certified Mental Health First Aiders are available the group. These colleagues are trained to identify, understand, and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. In addition, professional counselling and advice services are there for colleagues who may feel more comfortable talking with someone external. 

4. Informal sharing of resources

We share resources through our own intranet – such as Mind’s Top Tips For staying Well at Work and How to Improve Your Mental Health in 2022 from The New York Times. 

We are always looking for people who will deliver first-class work 

Recruiting, developing, and retaining engaged and motivated colleagues is essential for the success of our business. That is why PRMA Consulting is committed to a strong and successful learning and development strategy with clear progression paths. Read more about our development and growth initiatives and career opportunities. 

Further reading 

  1. “Mental health in the workplace” . The World Health Organisation explains why negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems and shares some effective actions that organizations can take to promote mental health in the workplace. 

  2. “My anxiety and depression at work” . A personal story highlighting the benefits of talking about experiences of depression and anxiety in the workplace. 

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