sarah doherty returning to work after mental illness Q&A.

what was your job before you had time off?

Before I took time off, I was a higher education administrator with three people working for me. It was a broad and varied role which, as you can imagine, was also incredibly stressful. In fact, my role was being broadened and added to, constantly, with no salary increase, and very little support.

What I found the least helpful, and potentially even more stress-inducing, was that at times the working environment could become quite hostile. My team had complex needs and required a lot from me, but there seemed to be little flexibility or training, and no chance of a promotion in the near future.

for what reason were you out of work? (Tell us a bit about what happened).

At the time, I was suffering very badly with anxiety and depression due to a very difficult time in my personal life. It got to a point where I was stressed, angry, and just couldn't cope with life. It was even a struggle to see a way forward, which was the point where things came to a head and as a result I was signed off by my GP.

did you miss work and if so what did you miss about it?

The truth is, I didn't miss work at all. After I was signed off I kept busy with things that interested me and made me happy. The fact that I could enjoy some extra time with my family was also an added bonus.

why did you return to work and why was it important to do so?.

Well, the real reason I returned was because I had a mortgage to pay, and because I needed money to feed myself! Before I went back I thought that returning to work would have a negative impact on me, and when I did, I was proved right.

My problems with anxiety and depression were still there, but the silver lining was that my break from the daily grind made a real difference. I felt like I had achieved things at home, like DIY and batch cooking, which I enjoy very much but never had time to do before.

what job did you do when you returned?

I’m actually still at the same job that I was before taking time off.

was it easy to find a job?

Yes, as I returned to my old role. I always knew I would eventually have to go back, and my team were great too, which made it easier to get back into the swing of things.

how did you explain your absence? Did you find it difficult? 

A lot of people at work knew what I was going through, so they didn't ask. I would have gladly talked about it with certain people, and they were the ones that knew as I had talked about it with them in the past. I would say that I was well protected and felt that there was a support system around if I needed it.

what were the challenges of returning to work?

Surprisingly, my return turned out to be quite smooth, which was a lot better than I expected. I had created a sort of routine at home, which I then maintained after my return to work, so I just carried on with that.

how did your employer make your return easier?

I was placed on a phased return which helped, and they paid for counselling too which was really great of them. Support-wise, I’d say that I got back into my work routine quite easily and for that I have to thank both my colleagues and my employer.

would advice would you give to someone in a similar position to yours who wants to return?

If your manager shows signs that he / she will be supportive, you should definitely go for it. And if you see that there are no plans for a support system when you return, you should definitely bring that up with your line manager. Truth is, if your good at your job and they want you back, they’ll do everything they can to keep you. And people usually need to keep having an income, so they’ll naturally want to go back!

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