With depression? It might seem totally natural to hide this aspect of your internal world from coworkers. That is, until The New York Times Magazine featured the complexities of depression in a cover story early in 2010 and called it “Depression’s Upside.” Yes, there are positive aspects to depression, including how it can affect your work.
According to the story, “every year, approximately 7 percent of us will be afflicted to some degree by [depression].” Moreover, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins found that “successful individuals were eight times as likely as people in the general population to suffer from major depressive illness.”
So if you look around at work, there’s a certain probability that someone is depressed, regardless of their level of success. And it’s not impossible for that somebody to be you. How’re you feeling today? We ask so as to stir some self-reflection on the matter.
What’s so great about being depressed? To be sure, to live with depression is to suffer, badly. Still, when you accept this state of being, and work with it rather than fight it, the few bright spots become increasingly visible. Let’s look at 6 perks of being depressed at work, directly from the Times article:
1. You’re able to concentrate entirely on your work as you withdraw from the world. We’ve experienced this first-hand during these dark days of winter, and so did Charles Darwin. We’re in pretty good company, right?
2. You may understand interpersonal relationships better. Ruminating as a function of being depressed can help you realize you need to be more gentle with people around you, for example, or that listening more attentively to friends helps everyone involved feel better. You’re also less likely to stereotype strangers.
3. You’re not so sidetracked by irrelevant stimuli around you. Being pinged by colleagues throughout the day, terrible news headlines flashing across screens everywhere, and even the pressure to multi-task won’t distract you from what you’re intent on doing. This type of zen energy is otherwise very difficult to come by.
4. An extremely analytical style of thinking can result from increased activity in a certain part of the brain of depressed patients. The tendency for the depressed is to think in a more deliberate fashion, breaking down a complex problem into its simpler parts. The bad news is that this thought process is really slow.
5. You have a more accurate view of reality and are better at predicting future outcomes. As well, you’re better at judging the accuracy of rumors and recalling past events. So if you feel up to attending that meeting, you’re primed to make significant contributions.
6. Your writing may improve. According to a social psychologist at the University of South Wales in Australia:
Negative moods “promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style.” Because we’re more critical of what we’re writing, we produce more refined prose, the sentences polished by our angst. As Roland Barthes observed, “A creative writer is one for whom writing is a problem.”
Detractors of the upside of depression argue that people with significant depression usually ignore daily hygiene and can neglect giving people around them immediate attention. True, this may be a recipe for greater hardships at work, and which increased ability to focus and problem-solving skills won’t necessarily help.
Ultimately, knowing the benefits of your depressed episodes at work can help you embrace these natural occurences, and even open up to your workmates about them. In turn, you may find yourself more relaxed in the workplace, and more productive. Now why would you want to hide that?
Yes, to be depressed at work may be a messy experience, and yet upon closer inspection, what part of being human in the workplace isn’t? It’s a rhetorical question; still, if you’d like to answer it in the comments below, we welcome it.