Returning to work after mental health issues

NHS

If you've had a mental health problem and been off or out of work, you may worry about going back.

You may be concerned about how your colleagues will react, for example, or that you won't be able to cope.

But most people find that going back to work is a positive step, and support is available to help ease your way back in.

Going back to work after taking sick leave

If your job is still open for you, consider talking to your GP before going back to work. Then you can arrange a meeting with your employer or occupational health adviser.

You can discuss anything that concerns you about returning to work, including any recommendations from your GP.

You may wish to ask about:

  • flexible hours – you might like to return part-time, for example, or start later in the day if you're sleepy from medication in the mornings
  • support from a colleague in the short or long term
  • a place you can go for a break when needed

Support for people with mental health problems

Reasonable adjustments

By law, employers must make "reasonable adjustments" for workers with disabilities or long-term physical or mental conditions.

This could mean giving someone with social anxiety their own desk rather than expecting them to hot desk, for example.

Access to Work

If you need extra help beyond reasonable adjustments, you can apply for an Access to Work grant. These pay for practical support so you can carry on doing your job or start a new one.

Fit for Work  

Fit for Work offers free advice to people with a health problem who want to stay in or get back to work.

Looking for a new job

If you're unemployed and want to get back into work, staff at your local Jobcentre Plus can help. If you have ongoing mental health issues, ask to speak to their disability employment adviser.

If you have a mental health worker, they can also tell you about the support available to help people with mental health problems get back to work.

Before you speak to anyone, think about:

  • where you would like to work
  • what kind of work you would like to do
  • what type of support you may need
  • your financial situation, including any benefits you're getting

A full-time paid job isn't the only option open to you. There are other possibilities that may suit you, including part-time work or volunteering.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a popular way of getting back into work. Helping other people in need is great for your self-esteem and can take your mind off your own worries.

Plus, volunteer work can improve your chances of getting a paid job when you're ready and, until then, you can carry on claiming your benefits.

Your rights and the law

Some people worry that when they apply for a job, they will be discriminated against if they admit that they have, or have had, mental or emotional health problems.

But it's illegal for employers to ask health or health-related questions before making a job offer.

It's also illegal to discriminate against people with any kind of health condition or disability, including mental health issues.

How work benefits your mental health

People usually find going back to work after a period of mental illness a positive experience.

Among other things, work can give you:

  • a sense of identity and purpose
  • the chance to build new friendships
  • better financial security
  • the feeling that you're playing an active part in society

Useful resources

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