I am a postdoc in mathematics and I work in the US. Two months ago I was diagnosed with moderate depression. In retrospect, I can say that I must have starting suffering from it last spring, though I was completely unaware of it at the time. I am currently under treatment, and symptoms are getting better. In particular my work rhythm is back to be usual. Anyway, I was told that I should continue the treatment for a few other months for safety.

I was wondering whether I should talk about this to my mentor, coauthors or somebody at the department. On one hand, my concern is that they might have realized my slowing down and thought that I was lazy or that I was not interested in doing research on our projects; on the other hand, I am afraid of being stigmatized in the future as a non-reliable person because I had depression.

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    I am afraid of being stigmatized in the future as a non-reliable person because I had depression. People lead successful lives despite challenges, including those with depression.
    – Compass
    Nov 17, 2014 at 16:22
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    @Compass: Unfortunately, not everyone understands this. Nov 17, 2014 at 16:28
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    @EnthusiasticStudent It is not a scenario that applies only to post-docs, IMO. It could apply to teachers, PhDs, grad students, and undergrads.
    – Compass
    Nov 17, 2014 at 16:29
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    Related at workplace.SE.com: Should an employee tell their supervisor about their depression? Nov 17, 2014 at 16:39
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    To add to Compass's comment, depression in mathematics is pretty common (and some people leave because another, more social career is healthier for them). Most mathematicians I know would be understanding about this, and talking to them may even help you cope with it, particularly if they had similar experiences.
    – Kimball
    Nov 17, 2014 at 17:38

5 Answers 5


I'm a tenured faculty member with chronic depression. Even though one of the flareups was in my early twenties, I didn't tell anyone in graduate school. Because of the stigma involved, I'm unsure even now whether I would advise telling your advisor about this unless you were absolute sure that he would be receptive. The worst case is that he could view you as less than capable and won't push you when he should. Even now (when I'm relatively open about this), I have used the gloss of personal or family issues when going through particularly difficult times.

But you should also not struggle alone. Your school should have mental health services. There may also be an ombudsman for student affairs. You may also find many of your peers also have mental health concerns. Create a strong support network for yourself.

I also agree with one of the commenters that depression is a chronic condition. I've had several severe bouts through my 20 year career -- and moments when the sun came out and everything felt great. I no longer hold the illusion that any sunny period will last and that I'm free of depression forever. The OP should also plan on what they will do if their depression is chronic, pharma-resistant, or remitting. That being said, I believe that some aspects of academia are good for people with depression (flexible schedules and being able to work from home for some of us) although there are obviously a lot of negatives as well (toxicity in some departments, incessant deadlines, stress before tenure, contingent employment etc.).

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    Because you're in the position of a professor, perhaps you can also answer from the professor's POV. If you were the student's mentor, would you want to know? Not the specifics, but just a "Oh, I'm having some personal issues" as you've indicated.
    – Compass
    Nov 17, 2014 at 21:31
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    Because I have depression myself and open about this status to my students, I would not have an issue. However, I have seen other faculty use the mental health status of students against them in faculty meeting. Maybe I'm in a particularly toxic department, but it does happen and so I would not divulge unless you are entirely sure that the professor would be receptive. You can't stuff that genie back into the bottle.
    – RoboKaren
    Nov 19, 2014 at 1:21
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    I no longer hold the illusion that any sunny period will last and that I'm free of depression forever. This really is the key. After realizing this fact, I've been more cautious and less frustrated with myself if I fell back into that same state again.
    – shivams
    Apr 14, 2015 at 17:34

I would be particular about who you share this with in your department, and outside of your regular circles. I would ask myself, how close am I with the people I am considering confiding in - in particular, how much have they been open about their own lives? If I am not certain, can I be somewhat open with them, without being detailed - can I, for instance, clarify that I had a family or personal issue impacting my work, without specifying my condition? I would also ask myself, is the drive for me to tell someone about this, about an existing group of relationships - e.g. these people are close to you, and you feel like you're hiding something from them - or about my need to develop stronger bonds and friendships, but not necessarily with this group of people. I think it is tremendously valuable to talk about depression or other illnesses, but perhaps not always at the workplace.

I was working on my master's degree when I confided in my advisor about a medical condition, and how that had led to a period of depression and unhappiness impacting the pace of my work. We had not been deep confidantes prior to that, but she tried to be understanding, and at one point mentioned other faculty members who were dealing with similar issues. (Actually, another committee member alluded, in our meetings, to having coped with cancer - not my diagnosis, but something that made me feel so much better nonetheless.) I was then given an extension on my work by the dean after I explained my situation in writing. Everyone in this scenario was female, in a predominantly female department, in a field that encourages reflection and expression - and I still felt very vulnerable discussing my problems. Ultimately, it was the right decision for me, but I think you are right to consider the potential for problems if you discuss your experience at work.


Although my level of education and position at the learning institution I work for are not comparable to yours, and the specifics of your situation are going to be a major component in your decision; the defining issues in dilemmas such as the one you are experiencing are universal.

Being the pragmatic individual that I am, I can see (and I believe that you too understand this to be true as well) that the answer to your problem ultimately hinges on one thing and one thing only. Will the revelation of your struggle improve or hinder your career?

My husband, who works as a graphic artist has been fighting depression for his entire life, and he had a particularly nasty bout with it earlier this year. When he asked for my advice on the matter, I told him that because he worked for a small business whose owner is extremely involved in his work, she had a right to know due to the fact that it was directly affecting the quality of product being put out. He took my advice and has gained empathy rather than a negative stigma from his employer and colleagues.

That being said, I was hired as a high school Spanish teacher a couple years back. I was struggling with depression as well as anxiety issues. Three weeks into my first semester, the headmaster of the school learned of my conditions, stated that he never would have hired me to begin with if he had known, and asked for my letter of resignation.

Deeply understanding the need for a sense of community when illnesses such as depression arise, I would still say that so long as your work performance has returned to normal levels, you should not confide in anyone associated with your work environment. However, you may want to look into forming bonds with someone in a similar position at a different institution in conjunction with the continuation of your therapy.

Remember, a professional's reputation is one of his most important assets.


Depression is a burden, and one that nobody should have to carry on their own.

There are people in life who are meant to help carry the burden. A therapist is someone who is paid to help, while a friend may be someone who wants to help.

A colleague, depending on how close you are to them, may be in more of a situation where they ought not to add to the burden. You might tell a colleague what you are going through if you feel it is necessary for them to realize so that they don't add to your burden.

If you feel that your colleagues will not add to your burden regardless, then sharing with them would probably depend solely on how close you are to them.

This is a complicated issue, so I hope I didn't oversimplify it.


I am in the same situation doing my postdoc. Due to the micromanaging style of my PI I have been developing anxiety for a while and at the moment I write this I am totally unproductive at work. The tension is building up as my boss can see me disengaged and I decided that I have to tell him. My plan is ask him to direct my work so I can be a robot producing data during one or two months while I assist to therapy. I think that in this world you have to share how you feel. Once you do that you can face two situations. Or your PI doesn't show empathy, or your PI works with you to help you out. My philosophy in live is that being honest with your feelings will make you aware of the environment where you are. If he doesn't understand and does not want to help, leave your position, that's what I will do. I think that by behaving this way you will always be surrounded with people that has empathy and is less toxic with your personality. This way, you are moving on to find the best place for you to work. Needless to say I apply the same with friends and colleagues, as I believe that you have to surround yourself with whom you feel comfortable with.

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