Written by: Cally Worden
I read an amazing statistic the other day – approximately 50% of long-term work absences result from mental health issues in some form. This includes anxiety and depression. Those who number among this figure will often be concerned about returning to work after a mental illness – Can they cope? Will they be bullied, or discriminated against? Such fears can compound the problem, causing individuals to become locked in a cycle of mental health problems from which it can feel impossible to escape. How can their return to work be eased?
The Benefits of Work
Experts agree that, in general, individuals benefit from being in work. It provides a sense of identity and purpose, and offers good opportunities to connect with others and avoid the isolation that so often results from mental health issues. Working also provides financial independence and security, boosting self-esteem and confidence, essential elements in the recovery from many mental health problems. With this in mind, the effort of returning to work definitely seems worthwhile. So how to go about it?
Returning to Work
Depending on circumstances, and the length of time an individual has been away from work, their former job role may still be open. There is no magic cure for mental health issues, so waiting for the day when you are ‘better’ is a nonsense. You do not have to be 100% well, physically or mentally, to perform in most job roles. Upon returning to work after a long absence you GP will provide a ‘Fit Note’, on which they can offer guidance and advice to your employer about the impact your illness has had on you personally, and how they can support and assist you in your return to the workplace.
You can request reasonable adjustments to your role to help may the transition easier. These may include flexible working hours, mentoring or buddy support, or a safe quiet space for you to escape to at work should you need to.
Seeking a New Job
For some who have suffered mental health problems the thought of returning to a former job is unpalatable. For others, that option may simply no longer be open. In either scenario returning to the workplace will necessitate the securing of a new job. The local Job Centre can offer help and advice, and those with ongoing mental health issues can discuss their options and needs with a Disability Employment Advisor.
Looking for a new job offers greater control and flexibility to those returning after a long mental illness. It gives the opportunity for a change of role, and a shift in the type of work you may choose to do. Depending on financial circumstances a part-time position may be possible or preferable to begin with.
Mental health sufferers often lack confidence and benefit from roles where stress is minimal. As an re-introduction to working life Volunteering can be a very powerful tool. It is optional, and often involves significantly less pressure than paid employment. It can be the ideal way for mental health sufferers to re-integrate and gain the benefits of work without the stress.
Those returning to work after absence due to mental health worry they may be discriminated against. The law is very clear on this – it is illegal. New employers are not allowed to ask about mental health issues, and existing employers must not discriminate against returning workers in any way.