Coping with mental health in the workplace
It can be hard to cope with a mental health condition at work. With around 30% of our time spent at work, and one in six of us dealing with anxiety, stress or depression, mental health at work is an issue which affects us all. Yet, unfortunately, despite the progress that has been made in the last few years, there is still a stigma associated with mental health, a reluctance to talk about and name the problem.
People still seem to be scared of the subject, scared of saying the wrong thing or of upsetting the sufferer and making them worse. In reality, they often make them feel isolated, and alone, because they can’t talk about how they feel and what is happening to them.
Returning to work
If you have been off with anxiety, stress, depression or another mental illness going back can seem a daunting prospect. While it is an important stage in recovery often helping us see that we are getting back to normal. The overtones of stigma and fears of judgement can cause anxiety. Often employers will try to help by easing you back into work, meeting with you before you return and offering reduced hours or coming back for a few days a week to ease the stress and anxiety of return. This support can make a huge difference. Many employers will have Employee Assistance Programmes that offer counselling and this can be invaluable.
If you are returning to work after time off, remember to take care of yourself. Ease yourself back into work, don’t expect to be perfect. Take your time to read emails and to understand what has changed since you were last in work. Not everything can be perfect and remembering that you will have bad days where things will go wrong can make things a lot easier to accept yourself.
Try to stay connected both to other colleagues and to the activities outside that helped you recover. As you take on work you can become tired and it is easy to withdraw from the active habits which helped you to recover from your anxiety and stress. Don’t forget that you need to keep looking after yourself.
It might seem strange to talk about time away from work just as soon as you have got back to the normal routine, yet you need to think of work as just part of your life. What will you do with your time off? What about the weekend, give yourself the space to assess how you are feeling about your progress?
Finally, accept the support of others when it’s offered, it doesn’t mean you have to tell anyone your life story but making connections has been shown to help mental health. Put yourself first.
We can all help
It can be daunting coming to work with a mental health problem but it doesn’t take much to help, and if we all do our part to support and talk about the subject, it becomes a little easier. So don’t let fear stop you, jump in and see what difference you can make in your workplace.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.