Sparking compassion, not fear, when depression shows up in the workplace

October 8, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that in 2016, more than 16 million adults dealt with a depressive episode. Battling the symptoms of depression is, no doubt, difficult, but it’s important that people understand they’re not alone.

Depression does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any time regardless of age, gender, cultural or economic background. Although depression is a common illness, it is often underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Historically, it has been a taboo topic that no one really wanted to admit or acknowledge at work or even within the bonds of a family. There is enough pressure in daily work-life balance making employees even more afraid to speak up for a fear of workplace judgement, responsibilities and opportunities being taken away, and in some cases being let go.

However, as awareness continues to spread, the conversation is, in fact, changing. More companies and institutions like Michigan Medicine are providing employees with the resources and tools they need in order to heal themselves and lend a helping hand to others. The challenge is building trust for employees to feel they can be open and honest about their situation without consequences and regret.

Sharing your story may be hard or not in your social DNA. A courageous employee decided to share a story in order to encourage others to have more compassion when depression shows up in the workplace. 

It started with isolation

Shortly after beginning my career at Michigan Medicine, life dealt me some personal blows. To be brutally honest, it threw some right hooks, an upper cut and a solid punch below the belt at me. Not only was I going through a divorce (and trying to help my kids navigate all of the changes that go along with it), but I was dealing with significant extended family issues and ended up suffering a few traumatic incidents that I’m still trying to work through. And all the while, I showed up to work every day and did my best to pretend that nothing was wrong.

Until I couldn’t anymore. My usual, upbeat personality became withdrawn and sullen. My office door went from open and welcoming to closed and uninviting. I would keep my head down to avoid eye contact with those I passed by so they couldn’t see my red, puffy eyes. I wasn’t “me” anymore, and I knew it. I was unsure how to remedy my feelings and my work started to reflect my feelings. I watched my coworkers carry on with meetings and their daily lives without a clue of my new behavior. I felt alone and that no one was there to help.

Just when I didn’t think things could get worse, it in fact did. As I was trying to focus on my work, with my door closed, I began to have shortness of breath. My vision began to fade, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of lightheadedness. I felt like I was going to pass out. When my supervisor, a registered nurse, stopped by to speak with me, she immediately noticed that my face was pale, my breathing erratic and that I was stammering. Within a few short minutes, she took me to Michigan Medicine’s emergency department to get checked out. Five hours and a plethora of tests later, I was discharged without any answers. (It wouldn’t be until almost a year later that I realized that I had experienced a full-blown panic attack.)

The life-changing call

A few weeks after my ED visit, I noticed a stack of business cards on the break room table that said “Michigan Medicine Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience.” I quickly grabbed one, brought it into my office, and made that first call. “What could it hurt?” I thought to myself.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made.

It was suggested that I make an appointment with my primary care physician, which I did, and later was diagnosed with anxiety and clinical depression. The good news was that I had an answer for what I was dealing with and was finally taking the necessary steps to manage it. If it wasn’t for my supervisor noticing something was wrong, I’m not sure I would be where I am today.

All of this happened about three years ago. I’m still dealing with depression, but through counseling things are a thousand times better. I’ve made a few positive life changes and even landed a new job within Michigan Medicine with more opportunities for growth! I am now more open about my experience and more compassionate to others.

It was important for me to share my story to Michigan Medicine faculty and staff to raise awareness. Please learn the signs of depression, and be ready to share the appropriate resources with your family, friends and fellow colleagues if necessary. Check on them regularly to see how they are doing, and always remember to ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.’ [Quote by Author Wendy Mass]

Michigan Medicine values each and every staff and faculty member

There are several resources and tools available to everyone that are completely confidential and supported by the organization. Everyone handles and deals with situations differently. It is important to find the resource that aligns with your needs.

The Depression Center Toolkit

Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience

Emergency Hardship Program


Have a comment on this story? Please feel free to email We’d love to hear your feedback!