AS@W Antidepressant Skills at Work: Dealing with Mood Problems in the Workplace

Putting antidepressant skills to work: an example

Lyse set up unrealistic expectations for herself.


SituationLyse managed an Information Systems department in a branch of a large corporation. She had always maintained high standards for her own work – in fact, she expected herself to produce work that was “100%”. She carried this attitude into her role as a manager, expecting her department to make decisions and respond to requests for data in a highly efficient and timely manner. By hard work and long hours, she had maintained a near-perfect standard for her department, and she had an excellent reputation within the company.

However, things changed when the head office decided there would need to be layoffs to reduce operating costs. A representative of head office visited her department and directed her to lay off one third of her staff. Several of those dismissed had important skills. No matter how much she argued the matter, head office insisted that these individuals were to be laid off, and that she would somehow find a way to do without them.

Despite increasing her own workload so that she was putting in 60 hours per week, she was unable to make up for the loss of these key employees and her department’s performance began to suffer. More errors were made, and data requests were filled more slowly. Discovering these flaws made Lyse very worried. No matter how hard she worked, she couldn’t be everywhere at once, nor did she have all the skills needed to maintain her very high standard.

Over the next few weeks, as problems mounted in her department, Lyse began to feel down and discouraged. She was no longer deriving satisfaction from her work. She had to drag herself into work – it was harder to get out of bed in the morning. Her husband asked what was wrong, but she was ashamed to admit that she could no longer do her job in the way she expected. He became concerned as her dark mood went on for several weeks and he insisted she visit their family physician. She was diagnosed as suffering from mild depression.

Action The physician gave Lyse a copy of the Antidepressant Skills manual, and arranged to see her in a week to monitor how she was doing. As she read over the workbook, she realized that she was thinking about her situation in a perfectionist way, setting up unrealistic expectations for herself. She used the Challenging Depressive Thinking strategy to come up with more fair and realistic ways of thinking about her own performance:

Challenging Depressive Thinking (example)

Not keeping up the previous high standard of my department.
Depressive Thought   Realistic Thought
I’m a failure.
(All or Nothing; Labeling)

It’s not reasonable to ignore my whole career of accomplishments.

Others I’ve talked to don’t agree that I’m a failure – they say I’ve done well in a very difficult situation.

Reduced performance of my department is caused by lost staff, not my performance. I can’t make up for loss of critical skills.

I would never say this to a friend in the same situation. Using this kind of label is unfair and just makes me feel more discouraged.

When they realize that I’m incompetent, I’ll be fired.
(Mind-Reading; Fortune Telling; Catastrophizing)

All the feedback I’ve had tells me that management sees me as very competent.

Even if performance slips, I can explain precisely why – I think they realize that no one else is going to do better. The way they’ve handled the situation suggests that they are less concerned with maintaining high standards than I am.

I’ll never work again.

Feedback I’ve had from colleagues is that my reputation is very good, so the odds are that if I left this job, I would find other employment.


Result After thinking about the situation and talking it over with her husband, Lyse realized that trying to keep up perfect standards without adequate resources was just not possible. So, she decided to aim for an “80%” performance level, a level she felt confident she could achieve with the resources she’d been given. As she practiced thinking about herself and her situation in this realistic way over the next four weeks, her mood started to lift and she felt much less anxious. She went back to working 45 hours per week. She was sleeping better and had more time to share with her husband and friends. She kept practicing the Realistic Thinking skills for six months until she felt confident that she had really changed her style of evaluating herself and her situation.

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