23 thoughts on “Depression: How do you tell your boss you can’t work?

  • June 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    You’re very fortunate. I am currently on short-term disability due to PTSD, depression and anxiety. It’s as if I never existed after working in the same place for more than six years. No get well wishes, cards or flowers. Just silence and the occasional email that there had been gossip regarding my absence. How do you return after that?

    • June 4, 2014 at 11:39 am

      I totally relate. I go back to work on the 9th after a month of Intensive Outpatient Therapy due to my major crash at my therapists office. People were “fishing” and I know they’ve gossiped about my absence. I, too, got no get well card or phone calls (except for two people out of over 100). I printed this article to give to my boss in hopes of overcoming the stigma associated with depression and anxiety. it is totally REAL!

      • June 7, 2016 at 10:36 am

        I understand that, I was in the mental ward at a hospital after a suicide attempt/depression. It was weird having to explain why I was gone for several weeks. I finally settled and said my autoimmune illness was acting up so I was in the hospital instead of saying it was mental. My bosses have made several off hand comments that were negative about mental health issues and so I couldn’t bring myseLG to be truthful out of fear from judgement.

  • June 4, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Still curious what advice you’d give someone about what to say in this situation. Are there legal protections or statutes someone could provide to their boss or HR director? Given the stigma, would you recommend someone just be open about it with supervisors and colleagues — as open as you’d be if you had pneumonia?

    • June 4, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      I am reluctant to give advice on this because it really depends on your job and boss. My career as a journalists spans 30 years – most of them with the same newspaper. I am 55-years-old and don’t have anything to prove or hide at this stage of my life and career. However, it wasn’t always that way. Would I be this open if I was 30-years-old and had just started my career? Probably not. Would I be this open if I knew by bosses were ignorant and believed mental illnesses are a sign of weakness? Probably not. There is also the impact your revelation might have on your kids or partner/spouse. Making this decision involves a lot of thought and will very likely generate a LOT of anxiety. Did for me. All the best. Hope it works out.

  • June 4, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    “When I called in sick with pneumonia I never worried that my boss might think I was faking it…”

    I understand thins way more than I want to. I suffer from depression, panic disorder, and slight agoraphobia – it takes a colossal effort for me to leave the house and head to work everyday. I do have intermittent FMLA so on the terrible days, I call in and just say I’m using FMLA time. However, during one of my out days my boss approached some of my coworkers and asked how this effected work flow and deadlines, even though on my FMLA days I still work from my home computer! My closest work confidant said the way my boss was asking these questions made it seem like she was trying to pull negative feedback from them all.

    Another time, I asked her to leave early because of my overwhelming anxiety. Driving in severe rain and thunderstorms is a major trigger for my panic disorder so I simply wanted to leave one hour early to get home safely before the rain came. She said no because as far as she knew it wasn’t going to be “that bad” outside so I could just work until the storm passed. Meanwhile the weather radar showed a severe thunderstorm for our whole area until 7 p.m. that night. I wonder up taking a risk and leaving anyway, thankfully she never noticed.

    It’s a struggle to work in a place that doesn’t recognize or treat mental illness the same way as medical illness. I deal with this type of treatment but my boss comes and goes and works from home as she pleases when she has migraines.

    • June 4, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      In this day and age, with technology that allows us to work from home, it makes no sense to keep an employee in a work situation that will reduce that employee’s productivity. Of course it depends on the job, but I know I often accomplish more when I work from home. Sometimes that is because the interruptions and distractions caused by the police scanners, televisions and colleagues conducting interviews in the newsroom really get on my nerves. My boss is very cool with that as long as I’m not needed in the office to help another reporter with a story or provide real-time updates on a breaking news story. It all depends on the situation. But, overall, I am blessed with bosses who “get it” and trust me. I hope you got home safe in the storm that night. Must have been a terrible drive.

  • June 4, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    I totally understand what you are saying, but I would have a difficult time with this, both as an employee and as a boss.

    To understand, you would probably have to have a glimpse into my upbringing. I always had to go to school no matter how I felt physically or emotionally. Our family was no excuses. Yes, I suffered from physical and emotional issues. It didn’t matter. I didn’t get out of swimming because I was having trouble breathing. I had to do it until I couldn’t and almost drowned. They fished me out luckily, but quitting wasn’t an option. When I was 12, I suffered a full cardiac arrest and was unconscious for 12 hours. Did I get time to heal physical from the intubation and electric shock? Heck no. I went back to school the next day. It’s hard to imagine just staying home to get your head together.

    I have slept until it is time to work and slept from the minute I got home for both mental and physical issues. but called in sick – never!

    • June 4, 2014 at 6:01 pm

      Phew. I’m exhausted just reading about your experience. Must have been horrible and traumatic. Sometimes there is a fine line between “quitting” and ending behaviors that cause harm. For me, when I quit drinking I ended a behavior that was causing me harm. I didn’t look at it as quitting – more like joining the winning side. However, when I quit working out in the morning because I wanted to eat bagels, drink coffee and snuggle my dog – THAT’S being a quitter. For me, the problem is I have no OFF switch. It’s been very hard for me to learn the distinction between being a quitter and quitting doing something that is not good for me. One is good. The other is bad.

    • June 5, 2014 at 6:34 am

      Then you have never dealt with being actually clinically depressed or have had an anxiety disorder. If you have then you would know how debilitating it can be at times. I have been out of work only twice in over 20 years due to these issues, but it was horrible.

      • June 5, 2014 at 5:09 pm

        Perhaps I have never dealt with clinical depression or anxiety or perhaps I have. It’s difficult to discern the physical from mental illness for me. When I was younger, my physical manifestations were attributed to emotional problems. My parents treated me with a belt. If I didn’t react to spankings, perhaps I was truly ill. Doctors decided that I was a hypochondriac and although I had more than my fair share of true illness those illnesses were blamed upon willing myself sick. I was rarely allowed to linger in bed. When I was older, my mom quit using a belt and resorted to waving a knife in my face.

        Perhaps I don’t understand depression. Even when you “can’t go to work” could you get out of the house if there was a fire? If you could, that would be akin to getting out of bed when threatened with a knife wouldn’t it?

        While I don’t advocate my mother’s tactics, I found that with an adrenalin push, I could do things I could never imagine. When I don’t feel that I can do something, that fear kicks in and I manage to do it.

        It honk perhaps the fact that I think that I must keep going has allowed me to overcome things that few people have. For instance, I had a stroke on Thursday and took a final on Friday. I had three others and somehow,against all odds am still working. We are finally making progress on figuring out what is going on with my immune system. I’ve also had shingles 3 times, strep throat 27 times, rhuematoid arthritis, rheumatic fever, a parasitic infection, COPD, a bone infection, and numerous other illnesses, I’ve rarely taken more than half a day off because it doesn’t seem right. I know that I’m extreme. Before my last stroke (when they were finally diagnosed) I kept having chest pain and shortness of breath. I hated the idea of going to a doctor only to be told for the bazillionth time that it was all in my head although neither doctor nor psychiatrist could cure me so I propped myself up and determined to keep working until I collapsed. So many days I thought I would but didn’t. It’s amazing what you can push through. Of course one day I did collapse but that still wasn’t the end of me!

  • June 4, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    This article is so on the money. I was honest with my boss because I respected his integrity. When I returned, it became apparent management was looking for a reason to terminate me because they felt I was a liability with clients. I was well known in my field, published had excellent employee reviews. I was terminated, within 30 days of returning. I sued them and took a piece of them in arbitration. I would never have been able to prove my case if it wasn’t for a board member calling me at home and telling me getting rid of me when I returned was discussed at a management meeting. Sad to say, I don’t think anything changed, but I wouldn’t know. I was traumatized by the whole experience and did not go back to work in that field.

  • June 5, 2014 at 3:35 am

    I appreciate seeing this topic addressed, as I’ve recently lost two jobs while on leave for mental illness treatment. When considering whether or not to disclose your condition to your employer, it is impossible to foresee the consequences of one’s decision.

    In December, I’d just started working at a new company after losing the job that I’d held for 10 years. I decided it was necessary to tell my new supervisor about my challenges (OCD/anxiety/depression), and her response was most encouraging. She emphasized that she liked me and offered to help me in any way she could. We worked together on ideas for accommodations that would allow me to do my job; she truly lifted my spirit.

    Unfortunately, my coworkers were not as accepting, and their cruelty had a negative effect on my mental health. When HR heard about my illness, they put an end to the interaction between my supervisor and I, and required me to engage in the formal Reasonable Accommodations process.

    It proved to be quite a “process” indeed. My doctor wouldn’t sign a medical certification while I was under stress caused by coworkers, so I arranged time off for treatment, and to remove myself from a hostile workplace. I was surprised when a second doctor refused to sign my Request for Accommodations–he saw accommodations as being counterproductive to OCD exposure treatment.

    So I was stuck, because HR wouldn’t allow me to return to work without the documentation they requested. After 3 stressful months, I finally made it through the process of obtaining signatures, and sat down with my employer to discuss my Accommodations Request. They ultimately decided to terminate me based on my doctor’s assessment of my limitations. I was disappointed, but somewhat relieved when I no longer had to think about how I’d be treated by my coworkers upon my return to work.

  • June 5, 2014 at 6:29 am

    I was out of work last year for about 4 weeks due to depression and anxiety, which I have dealt with for over 20 years. i was devistated when I found out halfway through my time out that my short term disability doesnt cover depression and mental issues. Really? I wonder if those people at the insurance co ever felt the way I felt at the time. SMH

  • July 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    So when I try to talk to my boss, she says oh I get depressed too (while smiling), which indicates to me that she is not depressed. If she is, she sure hides it well because she has a blast at work. Of course, we all learn to hide it as best we can, but I am tired of wearing the mask. I have had depression since the 1980s and been on various medications for it. I find that therapy is really just a waste of time as I get nothing from it. They say it is a chemical imbalance and if that’s the case, how can “talking about it” be any good? I generally work until I’m so worn down I have to take a day off; my last performance evaluation made mention of “excessive call-outs”. Other than that it was an excellent review with a score of “Excels”. What happened to making reasonable accommodation for people who are ill? She just sort of blows it off when I try to talk about it.

  • August 4, 2014 at 2:58 am

    I have no idea how to tell my boss I am too depressed to work. I know he will have exactly the attitude the person posting here has who claimed to never take sick days. Guess what, neither did I. I used to work 12-14h days, I went to work with the flu and other illnesses until my coworkers told me to go home. It’s not the same.

    Someone who never had depression just cannot imagine how debilitating it can be at its worst. I have trouble to just get up to eat, let alone work. Would I get up if there was a fire? I honestly don’t know.

    I work in a job which requires high concentration, when I force myself to go on days when I barely can I could make mistakes which would likely completely invalidate my work and could at worst endanger myself and others.

    It is great if your boss and coworkers are understanding, but at least in my field that is highly unusual. Since I work on temporary contract, I know I would be terminated.

    How to tell them then? I have decided not to and to resign instead. At least that will leave me some dignity.

  • August 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve known my current department manager for over 15 yrs and trust him, so I ended up telling him about my issues when I was having problems with my team leader and HR (regarding the accommodations I had in place for that as well as a chronic pain/insomnia issue). He flipped out, yelled at my HR rep’s manager and generally stood up for me, as expected. So, that is at least reassuring. As far as I know, he has filed that info in the back of his mind and has not shared it with anyone and it hasn’t affected our working relationship.

    My direct team leader doesn’t know and never will. Unfortunately, he really pushes my buttons (to the point that I have actually come home from work so angry and frustrated that I have hurt myself just to blow off steam). I wouldn’t tell him if I were about to pass out and die at my desk, let alone tell him about the issues I have with depression.

    When I need to work from home or call out sick, I just tell him I’m not feeling well and I don’t go into details. I don’t even give him the courtesy of a phone call. He gets a 2 or 3am email, and I check back later for an “ok”. He just doesn’t need to know why. All he’ll ever know is I have some “medical stuff” and that he has no say in the matter and is not allowed to ask questions.

    I’ve never been out for an extended absence due to my depression issues. That’s because my company doesn’t allow employees to take unpaid LOA and only permits medical leave, which my doctors won’t allow me to take. I have had the same conversation with every one I have seen in the past 10 years…and I have seen a lot of them. I usually get the same response of, “there’s no reason to miss work” or “you’re just being lazy and trying to get out of work”.

    So, Having been basically burned out for years, I’m stuck relying on the occasional sick day, vacation day, and the ability to work from home 1 day/week as the only breaks I get.

    I’m otherwise dragging myself through life until I die or conjure up the [email protected] to quit my job so I can get a break. I still have about 25 years until retirement; there’s no way I’m going to make that.

  • December 28, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    I just completed a 12 week medical treatment that is having effects on my kidneys. I have used all my PTO & don’t qualify for FMLA. However, I DESPERALTELY need some time of to recouperate, heal, & bring my mind back to where it was before the treatment. I am struggling horribly with depression, to the point I am considering checking myself into the hospital tomorrow. Is there anything I can do to be allowed some time & still have a job?

  • August 4, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I am currently 27 years old, and have been off of work for 4 days now, i know a lot of people look at me and think “what is it that ive experienced in only 27 years that could possibly get me so depressed” well there are a few issues i have gone through that have all added up and i feel as if ive finally snapped. I cant get out of bed, i dont eat and all i want to do is hide from the world and all of the problems its throwing at me. I really dont know what else to do nor do i know how to tell my boss what it is that im struggling with, as it is hard for me to even explain to myself what it is i am struggling with.

    I keep getting told to just grow up and move on, but its just not that easy anymore, like i said, its become a major effort just to try get myself up in the morning. I feel so alone in this all and its terrifying me to the point where id do anything just to get away from it all.

    I love my job, and i have no reason not to want to go back, but im embarassed about how i feel, and like ive said before i feel very alone. Am i weak? why is it others can continue and im breaking so early? i have so many questions and no answers.

  • January 23, 2016 at 6:15 am

    I get anxiety every morning before going to work because I have to be there at 7, so I get up around 4 so I have time to go online, drink my coffee, and just wake up with plenty of time so I don’t have to rush around. Mornings have always been bad for me.

    Even with 3 hours to be there, the last hour when I know I have to start getting ready, I start counting down watching the clock and it drives my anxiety up. If I could just go in an hour later it would help but there’s no way I could since I’m already only working 4 hours where everyone else works 8.

    My boss knows I’m on disability but doesn’t know why, just that I can’t be there all day and I just told him it’s because I have to work less to keep my insurance (which is part of the reason because just one of my meds is over $1200/month).

  • March 9, 2017 at 7:23 am

    My name is Beverley Sandler and I am a highly qualified Counsellor in Manchester. I read your post with great interest and can relate to a lot of what you have said.

    Just a quick thank you for creating the content and if you ever need any insight into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Wellness Coaching I would be more than happy to help.

  • April 22, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Lucky you. Now how do we tell our boss that we can’t work?

  • September 26, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    I am currently 21 years old and have suffered with depression for about 12 years now. I held a manager position at my most recent job for about 2 years and being the manager meant being more available to take extra and longer shifts….which was really hard for me since I was attending school full time and dealing with depression. I was always a stickler to never miss any day ever to the point that I would work when I was gravely ill nearly throwing up on customers, until my coworkers encouraged me to go home. But I NEVER called off. I actually won several awards for having perfect attendance because I would make sure I would make myself readily available to take anyone’s shift that decided to call off. This was really beating the shit out of me…the stress of school work and weight of my depression, I was so close to breaking down and just letting everything go. It wasn’t seeming worth it to me. Unlucky for me, the employer I worked for did not appreciate any of the extra work I would put in, all the past favors and extra work to impress her went unphased. She was a very money hungry focused boss and lacked emotion or empathy for Any of her employees.I became ill to the point where I couldn’t make myself get up to go to work and I finally did the unthinkable….I called in sick! I couldn’t say I was calling off because of my depression so I had to say it was a family emergency….turns out that one random call off day really started to affect how she looked at me, since I started asking for more days off ahead of time so I could actually have time to breathe!! I had no social life I was becoming so consumed in just work-school-homework-sleep-repeat. It was extremely unhealthy for my mental health. Once I started asking for more days off I was seen as “unreliable” and was causing my boss “too much stress” to work around my schedule to the point that she went to the extreme to fire her perfect attendance flexible schedule manager because she didn’t want to deal with her taking time off every once in a while for herself so She wouldn’t deteriorate or kill Herself just trying to make a paycheck. I was truely shocked at how unempathetic she was towards the whole situation. She lost a loyal employee just because she didn’t want to take the time to value what she had done for her and see how to make her working there more comfortable.


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