According to estimates from The Mental Health Foundation, one in four of us will experience some sort of mental health issue in the course of a year. These problems can range from more common ailments such as depression and anxiety, to more rare illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Despite these statistics, there is still a sense of stigma and a lack of understanding which can make returning to work after illness stressful. Colleagues who are unfamiliar with mental illness can make assumptions that are incorrect and may be cautious or even apprehensive around those diagnosed with a mental health problem.
The impact of this kind of stigma can cause employees to be excluded and made to feel ‘different’. If you are concerned about returning to work after a mental illness, the following tips could help:
Talk to your manager and colleagues
As tempting as it may feel to slip back into the office unnoticed, it is important to talk about the difficulties you have faced/are facing. Keep in touch with colleagues and managers while you are off work and keep them updated with your progress. By doing this you will make the inevitable return to work meeting more relaxed.
Knowledge is power
Learn as much as you can about your own diagnosis and inform your colleagues. Often it is a lack of knowledge that makes colleagues feel awkward, by telling them more about the issues you’re experiencing you can help to dispel myths and reduce stigma.
Know your rights
Some employers fail to keep up to date with legislation or they may simply be inflexible when it comes to reasonable adjustments upon your return. For this reason it is important to know your rights, so ensure you find out whether or not your condition is classed as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act.
Have a support system
Being away from your work friends can make you feel incredibly isolated and vulnerable. Ensuring you have practical and emotional support while you recover and return to work is important – for many people, counselling offers this kind of support.
Having a mental illness can be draining, so you may need to go back to work with a phased return. Talk to your manager about adjustments you may require; for example, you may find it helpful to work from home a couple of days a week until you feel fit for the office.