Going to work on mental illness
Mental Health issues (depression, bipolar, anxiety etc.) are the cause of as many as 50% of the absences from UK workplaces. Part of getting well and back to your normal life will be returning to work. Many people find that this is a daunting prospect, and can temporarily make them feel worse.
All employers are different and the resources that they have to help you manage your return to work will vary, however, you should expect your employer to help to re-integrate you back into your workplace. This will include practical things like making you aware of changes that may have happened during your absence through to discussing with you what would help you, (for example reduced hours to help you ease back into work).
There is protection both in employment rights and (in some cases) with the disability discrimination act and you should have confidence that your employer needs to comply with what is set out there. Good practice will include: staying in touch with you regularly throughout your illness, being interested in helping you get back to work while preventing you from returning too soon. They can also help you by managing (with your permission) information to colleagues and encouraging them to support your return to work.
One of the steps in returning to work will be getting a fit note from your GP. In the fit note there is a space for your GP to recommend things which are likely to help you return. You may find less pressure talking through what might be done with your GP before your employer. If your GP makes a recommendation, your employer must consider that advice. This can be very practical help like a colleague to shadow and help you for the first days or weeks, or perhaps to reduce stress by offering a more flexible working pattern till you get back in your stride.
Typically an employer will hold a return to work meeting and at that meeting there should be an exploration of the things that will help you. If you are feeling anxious about the meeting you should write down things you need and things that would help, so that you don’t have to remember them under pressure. The idea of such a meeting is to allow you to prepare to return to work and for your employer to let you know the changes they agree to and the support you can expect. You may feel that you want to be accompanied to that meeting by a colleague, union or family member to help you.
Then the day dawns when you are returning to work. It will be perfectly normal to feel anxious, yet you will have some things you know about. You will know how to get support; you may have help to adjust to the return to work. Yet you may be anxious about the judgement of others or what they may say (or not say) to you, or that you might be discriminated against (for example in career progression). Many people will have these fears and you can overcome them using the support and tools that you have found during your recovery.
One returning worker said “I was so anxious I thought I couldn’t do it, but in fact the hardest thing was turning the handle and walking in, most people didn’t bother and those that did simply say good morning or that it was nice to see me back. I had imagined all sorts, but the reality was much easier”.
Returning to work is a good experience and part of your recovery. Whatever your issue has been with the support of your family, healthcare professionals and your employer, you have both the capacity and the ability to get back to life and work.