I’m back at work after six months off. There was three months off last year too. Certain pressures of work combined with chronic anxiety have put me through two years of dreadful depression. I want to work and my employer wants me to work too. It’s been a rough road for both parties and I recognise it’s not all about me, my illness affects many people in my life…
…and people affect my illness, and therefore effect my life. Working in an office, or anywhere, can bring you into close proximity with individuals that can aggravate anxiety.
Is it a disability?
A short period of stress at work associated with anxiety and depression symptoms may not indicate a long term or permanent disability. However if you are susceptible to such triggers and the stress continues it can be devastating and lead to long term sick leave. Half of long term absence from work is due to such vulnerabilities.
Anxiety & depression can have a long term effect and be very disabling. If you have the bad luck to suffer chronic anxiety and/or, reoccurring bouts of depression you almost certainly have a Protected Characteristic as per the Equality Act (2010) (ask your Doctor) and your employer has a legal duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to your work.
What about my employer?
Your employer may ask you to attend an Occupational Health Assessment so that they can have an experts opinion about your illness. Remember your management probably don’t understand your illness and advice from a medical professional will normally be objective and supportive of your illness.
There is also a Common Law duty of care. Your employer should of course be on your side; the law compels them to protect you from what can aggravate your anxiety.
You may find it hard to be open about your mental health. I’ve been “out” for some years but still will not state it on a job application. You should not be asked anyhow. Well that’s true in most cases, but we should also exercise sense in choosing jobs and careers. You have to take care of yourself and also be responsible towards your potential employer, and customers etc.
When younger you may not know that what is making you ill is a mental health issue, and also not know that its what’s going wrong with your career. Once you know the limit that your illness places on you its time to think of moving forward and back into work when you are well enough.
Return to work?
You will find that your Doctor will support you if you discuss returning to work. If they have concerns they will tell you. If you are absent from your normal job then the Doctor can put appropriate advice on your “fit note” for your employer. If you are unemployed then you may find help with training to refresh your work skills. Do not be afraid to seek help.
Mental health problems like anxiety & depression, do not need to stop you from working if you feel well enough, have the right support and the right job. So why work?
For me it’s part of fighting back, pushing against something that threatens to destroy me and badly effect my family. That’s my emotive gut reaction each time I get well enough.
Other reasons for working when there is a break from depression are;
- Steady routine.
If you have an underlying mental health disability then prolonged stress at work is something for both you and your managers to avoid. Both parties need to be aware of the threat to your mental health that certain circumstances can generate, and both parties need to take care of your health.
Getting it as right as possible.
The mental health charity Mind has made a pamphlet available that facilitates a Wellness & Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) to be agreed with your management for when you are at work. It’s a great wellness tool and I recommend it. It is in the best interests of employers and employees to work together, and create mentally healthy places of work.
You might have to seek a phased return to work of shorter hours & reduced duties. It may be possible to return part time, but be aware you may be capable of full time work after a while, so you might want to plan for that with your employer. Don’t rule out a full recovery.
Being able to “disappear” to a quiet place when needed should be discussed, but try to keep this to when really needed and always make up for missing work time in this way. Always remember that there will be reasonable adjustments made but you can repay your employer by showing you care about being effective. We should take pride in proving that we are effective workers despite our mental health issues – that’s fighting stigma!
Each time I have returned to work, after a bout of severe depression, face to face stigma and discrimination has been very, very limited. The most striking feature has been the friendliness and consideration shown by colleagues and managers. It can be hard to find ways of educating anyone who causes an issue for you and the best approach is via your manager. If your manager fails to act then things could just go bad very quickly. Unless your manager has bought in to caring for your disability, being at work may be impossible.
Some people may be such bad characters that, although your colleagues seem to cope with them, they are a danger to your health. Your manager needs to know this.
Your illness may make it hard to cope with bad characters but you should avoid direct confrontation. Speaking out and arguing will probably undermine your position. If management will not act then seek support from friends and others such as your Union. Grievance procedures may not be effective as there is a vested interest for management – in that if it is found that you have been harassed then they can be held responsible – and so may just cause more aggravation. You can ask Moving Forward for help – see our contact page.
Many people would be very fearful of returning to work, and the first hours, days, and weeks can be a challenge. My recent return was a real struggle. It’s been just over two months now and I’m beginning to feel well apart from a few symptoms, probably about 70-80% well – you don’t have to be 100% well to work effectively, we all struggle to work for some reason every now and again.
There has been changes at work and two particularly challenging colleagues are not there now. The work is challenging and my colleagues have been great. The real star is my manager whose care, support, and understanding has made the increase in my duties over the two months a real tonic.
Well, thank you!
My work is making me well. My health is improving because I went back to work. Thank you to all involved, and it very much involves my friends within Moving Forward.