Managing depression in the workplace – part 1

Depression, for me, can be characterised as the contrast of colour decreasing. It fades and becomes one. There’s no sharpness in thought. Everything is slow. There’s also a real spiralling; it’s essentially like treading water constantly

There’s such a blank sadness and hopelessness, that all you really want is to let go and sink.

Depression really mustn’t be confused with the odd feeling of unhappiness or being fed up once in a while. This distinction is important. Research suggests that depression affects up to half of all autistic people at some point in their life, and that autistic people may be more likely to experience depression than non-autistic people. This is hugely concerning, and really indicative of the low employment rates amongst autistic people.

Depression affects people in different ways, and may include, but not exclusively – feelings of despair, being teary, unable to sleep, eat, and the neglection of hobbies and seeing friends and family. These symptoms last persistently for a number of weeks and can feel really monumental. I appreciate they may not sound much in themselves, but you have to imagine them all happening at the same time, and the knock-on effect this has on all aspects of your life, all at once.

I feel some people aren’t able to properly perceive quite the magnitude and severity that depression can have on someone, which is why I’m spending a bit of time laying out what it is.

Depression can occur for a number of reasons, for instance from experiencing trauma or stressful events, having other mental or physical health conditions, alcohol, drugs, or from simply having a family history of depression. Personally, within the autistic population, I find that we are at far greater risk to mental illness; as ordinary day-to-day life can have additional challenges, from environmental factors to daily communication and interactions with others.

Furthermore, with differences in how we perceive and understand the world, we can be more at risk of being misunderstood and not able to relate to others as easily, which can all lead to feelings of separation and isolation to humanity. Consequently, we can end up feeling very alone, and often with a lack of an adequate support network, this can correlate highly with getting depressed. Alexithymia can also be a strong contributor to depression in autistic people, in that we struggle to identify, understand and manage our emotions, due to interoception difficulties.

If you are experiencing depression and are in employment, you may want to keep on working, as a routine and structure can be hugely beneficial, and the feelings of connecting with others and being productive can all be good for mental health more generally. This can help keep a sense of normality to one’s life, when all else seems to be falling apart.

For some autistic people I know, work helps maintain a real equilibrium in one’s life and can even help symptoms. Work can give us a sense of purpose, after all.