How to Prevent Depression from Becoming Your Work Identity

April 15, 2021 Mahevash Shaikh

Due to the number of hours many of us spend at work, it is natural for work to become an integral part of one's identity. In fact, there's a term for it: work identity. Depression also affects one's work identity, so much so that it might define you in your workplace. What's more, it may also define the way you see yourself. 

Defining Work Identity

What is your work identity? According to a paper by scholar Irina V. Popova-Nowak,1 it is defined as follows:

"Work identity is a multidimensional work-based self-concept reflecting individual's self-image that integrates organizational, occupational, and other identities shaping the roles and behaviors of individuals when they perform work. Research strongly suggests that it is through work identity that individuals integrate learned professional skills and internalized organizational norms and make them meaningful."

Speaking from personal experience, depression is likely to influence your work identity in one of two ways: the way you see yourself and the way the people you work with see you. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you keep your depression in check.

Preventing Depression from Taking Over Your Work Identity

There are various types of depression, and the intensity of depression varies from individual to individual. For example, some people may have clinical depression, and some may have situational depression. Also, one may have high-functioning depression while another may have low-functioning depression. Regardless, if depression is harming your work life, you need to take certain steps to manage it. 

  1. Be aware of how depression is affecting your work -- The first step is to know the impact of depression on your work. You can do this by asking yourself introspective questions. For example, ask yourself if depression is preventing you from setting career goals, standing up for yourself, or taking on new responsibilities at work. 
  2. Challenge limiting beliefs with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) -- Just like me, you may find that depression is making you question your abilities. For example, you may believe that you do not deserve a pay raise because depression will eventually prevent you from doing a good job. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you deal with these kinds of limiting beliefs. 
  3. Accept your shortcomings -- Of course, there are negative ways in which depression will influence your work. Not everything can be overcome, so acceptance is key. In my case, I've found that it has made me impatient. Since I've been unable to conquer impatience so far, I now do my best to work with it.
  4. Confide in select people -- As a mental health advocate, I think workplaces should regularly have honest mental health conversations. However, in reality, there is still a lot of stigma against mental illness, and we have years to go before we can have these conversations. Therefore, it's best to be discreet when you need some support. For example, if you are taking a mental health day, there is no need to tell your coworkers. This is only because they might react poorly, not because you need to hide your mental health struggles.
  5. Try your best and leave it at that -- At the end of the day, you can't control what others think or say about you. All you can do is try to do a good job and leave it at that. Make sure you take good care of yourself. You shouldn't punish or berate yourself for having depression because it is neither a choice nor does it define you. For that matter, you are not defined by your job title, the amount of money you make, or any other such external parameter. 

How does depression impact your professional life? What do you do to prevent depression from defining your work identity? Please let me know in the comments section below. 


  1. Popowa-Nowak, I., "Work Identity and Work Engagement." UFHRD, August 18, 2010.

APA Reference
Shaikh, M. (2021, April 15). How to Prevent Depression from Becoming Your Work Identity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Mahevash Shaikh

Mahevash Shaikh is a millennial blogger, author, and poet who writes about mental health, culture, and society. She lives to question convention and redefine normal. You can find her at her blog and on Instagram and Facebook.

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