Absence from work for reasons to do with mental or emotional health problems (including anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder) is far from unusual - the NHS estimates that around 50% of long-term absences from the workplace are due to mental health issues.
The process of returning to work following a mental health-related absence may feel daunting and leave you fearing bullying or discrimination and latent stigma.
But there are factors to consider that can make your experience a great deal easier, and even a positive opportunity to learn and start afresh.
only go back when you’re ready.
You don’t have to be completely better or entirely symptom-free to return to work, but do consult with your GP and ask if they think you’re ready. If the answer is yes, they can submit a ‘fit note’, which can help you with methods to cope and manageable ways in which your employer can support you. The 2010 Equality Act requires your employer to make “reasonable adjustments” to your working arrangement, which can mean anything from flexible hours to quiet spaces for you to use.
tailor-make your return.
Precisely because your employer has a legal commitment to make things work for you on your return, create an arrangement that suits you. It may be that flexible hours work best, perhaps you would benefit from a trusted mentor, or maybe you’d like to have a quiet space at work set aside for your use whenever necessary. It’s a good idea to ease yourself back into the professional routine, and there’s no shame at all in making room for yourself where you might need more time or support.
It can be hard knowing how to broach the subject of your return with your boss. Sometimes it can help to enlist the support of an occupation health adviser, who can provide information on how to engage with your future colleagues about your mental health and how it might affect your work. Then you can have open and productive discussions with your boss, rather than skirting the issue.
know your rights.
Do some research and find out about the rights and benefits to which you’re entitled. The government provides an ‘Access to Work’ scheme, which works with people who have mental health issues while they look for a job. The programme supports you with practical help so that you can continue with your professional commitments. It’s also important to read through the parts of the Equality Act which make it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability or mental health problems and bans employers from asking health or health-related questions before making a conditional offer on a job.
update your CV.
Explaining the gap in your CV can feel uncomfortable, but addressing it openly will boost your confidence and encourage your prospective employer to consider all the valuable things you’ll have learnt while away from the work place.
There are no rules about how to return to work after a bout of poor mental health, so don’t be afraid to do it exactly as you please. If you’re not quite ready to go back to the office, think about volunteering or finding a new kind of part-time, freelance position