dealing with your anxieties around returning to work after a mental health issue.
The Mental Health Foundation estimates that one in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health issue of some kind over the course of the year. The most common problems (although by no means the least severe) develop around depression and anxiety, which in 2014 was believed to affect between 8% and 12% of the population annually.
It’s no surprise, then, that there are so many people dealing with the transition of going back to work after an absence due to poor mental health. But it’s too often misunderstood as an issue, which can make the return daunting. It makes sense that you might feel anxious about going to back to the workplace if you’re not sure you can trust your colleagues, managers and HR staff to be familiar with the nature mental health. Is there a chance they’ll make incorrect assumptions about the risk of a relapse, or how your diagnosis might affect them?
Stigma is still a real problem, and anxiety around exclusion from events and meetings, or insensitive or patronising behaviour is entirely understandable, but summoning the strength to deal with stigma head on is the most effective way to crack it.
take your time.
Returning to work after a mental health problem is normally a positive experience. Employment and routine cultivate a sense of well-being, and can boost your confidence; help with a sense of identity and purpose; provide opportunities to develop new relationships and bolster your financial situation. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenging transition. Easing yourself back into the world of work can make for a smoother readjustment that’s successful in the long term. Invoking your rights in terms of flexible or phased working can allow you to build your energy levels over time, or trying out freelance work might accommodate medication (and its side effects) more feasibly.
educate your co-workers.
Often the unhelpful behaviour around mental health is the result of fear, which itself stems from misunderstanding. Worries that they don’t know the right way to talk about mental health issues, or concerns that they might accidentally infringe the Equality Act can lead to disengagement or only ‘official’ emails from your boss. Although it does place demands on you to be proactive, one way to tackle this problem is to communicate and share information with the people you work alongside. Open a dialogue with your manager before you go back – perhaps meet face-to-face – and explain how your condition affects you and how it will shape your experience of the workplace. You can then also dictate how and when you’d like that information shared with your colleagues.
Your anxiety about returning to the demands of a working routine will be eased by a stabilising knowledge of your rights and entitlements. Consult the Equality Act and think about having an informal chat with your boss about the legislation to ensure they’re up to date. The Act entitles you to flexibility and reasonable adjustments (such as flexible or phased working) on your employer’s part to accommodate your needs. You might also consider using your union as a source of support – they can liaise with your employer and HR department as well as advising you on your rights and sitting in on meetings with your employer to ensure you’re being treated fairly.
take the help that’s out there.
Seek emotional and practical support from the organisations that are there to help you. Engaging with other people who are dealing with the same issues and accessing information and day to day support from experts can get you back on your feet very quickly, as well as staving off isolation and vulnerability. Charities like Rethink, SANE and Mind have plenty to offer, and forums and chats will put you in touch with individuals and groups who have had similar experiences.
Plus the oldest tricks in the book can work well when looking to dispel anxiety about getting back on the work horse after a stretch of mental health sick leave. Getting a good night’s sleep whenever you can, and fuelling yourself with nutritious food will set you up in the best possible way to deal with the challenges you’ll face.