With 50% of long term sickness absence from work related to mental health issues, facing the prospect of returning to work after this sort of absence is something that is challenging but not uncommon. Nonetheless, it can feel a lonely process.
To give yourself the best chance of making a successful return, there are some important steps to think through in advance of your return date.
Every situation is unique, and this article is intended only to supplement professional medical advice about your return to work.
Get professional advice
If you have been absent from work for a long period for any reason, it is vital that you only return to work on the basis of professional medical advice. Coming back too early can have negative consequences for your longer term health, and ultimately is not good for either you or your employer. Talk to the professionals who are managing your care, and browse the resources available online to give you some ideas for how to manage your return. Although online resources cannot replace professional and personal advice, there can be valuable stories and tips from charitable organisations, community groups, and other people who have had similar experiences to yours.
Understand how work could benefit your health
Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to return. It is important to be realistic; don’t push yourself to do too much too quickly, but do think about how a return to work can help your recovery if well managed. The return to a regular routine, for example, can be beneficial to many, and spending time with colleagues can help overcome any concerns following a lack of social interaction during your illness.
Ask for the reasonable adjustments you need
For a return to work to be really beneficial to you, it is important that you can ask for any support or reasonable adjustments that you might need to make it a success. In the UK, you may find that you are covered under legislation which requires employers to make ’reasonable adjustments’ - and even if your condition if not covered specifically, good employers will make efforts to help.
Don’t be afraid to ask - think through how what you are requesting could be made to work both for you and your business, and present your case to your boss or HR department. If you need support, or ideas about what might help you in your return, your GP or medical professional should be able to help - consider adjustments such as a graduated return to work building your hours over a period of weeks, or an initial adjustment to your tasks on your return which does not require you to re-enter situations at work which are stressful to you.
Have a trusted individual at work to support you
Having daily support at work really helps. This could be your boss, a colleague, or someone from the HR department - but it should be someone you can be completely honest with and get things off your chest if you need to. Feeling that you have the support of someone close to you, even if it only to discuss the little things on a day to day basis, can make the prospect of returning to work much less daunting.
Returning to work after any sort of illness comes with its own challenges - and returning after mental health problems can feel even more difficult. Take time to prepare for your return, talk your plans and thoughts through with your family and medical professionals, as well as your contacts at work, and ask for the support that you need to make your return a success.
Image: A lovely start via Flickr