Feel guilty for being off work with depression (Should you?)

In this guide, we will discuss “Feel guilty for being off work with depression”, if being depressed is the reason why you are feeling guilty, being depressed after a work wound, how can depression affect your work, employee rights and returning to work after being off for depression.

Feel guilty for being off work with depression?

If you feel guilty for being off work with depression let us tell you it is completely normal. We may feel how we shouldn’t be entitled to having time off because we are depressed because that is what we may have heard from colleagues or other people. However, there is no need to feel guilty because depression is as serious as having diabetes or a heart condition.

The behavior of your colleagues is what makes you feel guilty and fear that you might be sacked.

If you have decided to go to see your doctor and they have signed you off work by issuing a fitness to work note for depression it means they have determined you really need some time off. However, feeling guilty happens to many people that have to take time off work when they have a mental health issue such as anxiety or struggling with stress, and they are still valid reasons for being off work.

Moreover, if you have depression it may be considered as a disability and you are protected under the Equality Act 2010, which states that: 

“A person (P) has a disability if—

(a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and

(b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

But, you keep wondering why you feel guilty every time you get time off work for depression or you feel how your boss or colleagues seem to judge you for it? Well, let’s take a look at some important information that may be very useful.

Is being depressed the reason why I feel guilty?

It is more likely you are feeling guilty not because you are depressed but because of what people around you say and think about depression. You may also consider how depression can become a problem not only to you but to other people, including loved ones.

Let’s think about why we feel guilty for being off work with depression. You may have heard things like, “oh, but people have it worse”, “you don’t really have any reason to be depressed” or “this shall pass, you are just a bit sad”. We start getting bombarded with these types of comments and we begin to think that maybe we are just exaggerating the situation and we shouldn’t feel the way we feel.  

Many people don’t really know that there is no need for anything specific happening to you or negative things happening in your life. However, it is true that certain factors can make someone more vulnerable to experience depression but there is no checklist that will determine someone will experience depression.

As indicated by Mental Health America, “Guilt is a normal feeling associated with depression. It’s easy to spiral because you’re focused on guilt. You feel guilty for having depression (for burdening others or not being “complete”), which makes you feel worse. Then because you feel like more of a burden, you feel guiltier.”

Remember, it is not your fault you are depressed and having to take time off work. Also, it is not something you chose or decided so there is no need to feel guilty or ashamed for having time off to get support and recover. 

Feeling depressed after a work wound

If you have been injured while doing your job, it is common among employees who have been injured to feel depressed.

As indicated by Nancy Carnide from heretohelp.bc.ca, “About half of workers without a diagnosis of depression in the year before a work-related woundmay feel depressed at some point during the year after their wound, and one in four may feel depressed at the one-year mark. Importantly, symptoms of depression are common among those who are not working one year after their wound, or who try to go back to work but are unable to continue.”

These are the findings from the results of a study by a team of researchers at the Institute for Work & Health, an organization based in Toronto. They found that the first six months after an wound at the workplace are important for the employee’s future mental health. This means those first six months are crucial for a screening of depression and get appropriate treatment. If you are feeling unwell, consider going to your GP and get some help if you are not really sure if you are experiencing depression

How can depression affect my work?

Depression can be a very debilitating condition and can affect all aspects of your life. If you feel guilty about being off work, consider how the symptoms of depression can affect your ability to work. These can include:

  • Struggling to stay motivated and concentrated.
  • Reduced performance.
  • Difficulties going to sleep or sleeping most of the day.
  • Losing interest in activities that you previously enjoyed.

As indicated by the prioritygroup.com, “When depressed, people can also isolate themselves, worry excessively about getting work done and feel guilty about letting other people down. They can also find it difficult to talk about how they feel at work, because they feel ashamed that they may be judged.”

Moreover, think about how stress and work-related triggers can make your depression worse.  Some of the major stress triggers include having high workloads or being asked to do certain tasks that are outside of your competency. In addition, it is a reality that most people don’t understand what it feels to leave with depression so there is a lot of taboo around it which can cause difficulties or problems with colleagues.

Employee rights

As an employee, you have to be aware of your rights. If you have been signed off work sick with depression, you are protected against discrimination in:

  • Recruitment and selection.
  • Pay, terms, and conditions.
  • Sickness absence.
  • Training and development.
  • Promotion.
  • Dismissal.
  • Redundancy.

Subsequently, try not to worry too much about your job since the time you have been signed off is the time your doctor believes you need to get better, so concentrate on your recovery. When necessary, consider talking to your employer when returning to work so they can make any reasonable adjustments for a phased return, or even more time if you need it.

Returning to work after absence due to depression

After having some time off to focus on yourself and concentrate on your recovery, you may feel ready to go back to work. However, work may seem to play an important role in our lives and for many people a very influential one.

As indicated by Jeff Durham from safeworkers.co.uk, “Work often plays one of the largest roles in shaping our perceptions of ourselves and if we have been absent for some time due to anxiety or depression the fact that we are not working often adds to our feelings of a lack of self-worth. However, once we are on the right road to recovery, going back to work is often one of the most important factors in speeding up our return to full health. It provides us with a support network and is an opportunity to regain our sense of self-esteem and puts some routine and stability back into our lives.”

Returning to work can be challenging if we don’t get the support we need. This is why it is important to ask your employer for any reasonable adjustments that can be made, so you can feel not only supported but in an environment where you matter as an employee and where you feel safe.

In addition, consider getting additional help from your employer, a colleague, counselor, or therapist if you feel work is becoming too overwhelming or you feel you are struggling with depression. If you don’t want to tell your boss or share it with someone at work you are not obliged but remember these feelings should not be ignored because they won’t simply go away.

Why is this blog about feeling guilty for being off work with depression important?

As we have discussed throughout this blog, feeling guilty for being off work with depression is very common. We might feel we shouldn’t be getting days off when there are other people having a worse time or going through many difficult times so why should we be considered special for being depressed. Well, as we have mentioned, depression is as real as having diabetes or a heart problem and just because there are no visible scars or exams that can prove it, it doesn’t make it less real or important.

Remember, you have employee rights that protect you against being discriminated against for being depressed, and consider how, if your doctor recommended time off is because you actually need it to focus on yourself and recover. Work will be waiting for your return as long as you are feeling better.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!


Healthassured.org: “Off work with depression what are my rights”

Priorygroup.com: “Steps to take if you feel too depressed to work”

Screening.mhanational.org: “I feel guilty about being depressed”

Carnide, N. (2016) Six-month period after wound a potential “window of opportunity” to identify and address mental health problems. Retrieved from heretohelp.bc.ca.

Durham, J. (2020, Jun.) Returning to Work After Absence Due to Anxiety or Depression. Retrieved from safeworkers.co.uk.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!