Key advice if you're returning to work after a mental health problem

If you've had to take time off work or been out of work for a long period of time because of a problem with your mental health, the good news is that you are not alone.

It is not uncommon for those who have had a mental health problem to worry about returning to work. Some people worry about going back too soon and becoming unwell again, while others are concerned about the stigma those who have faced mental health problems can unfortunately encounter. Indeed, some people fear that no matter how complete their recovery has been, returning to work will make their symptoms worsen.

The benefits of returning to work

However, going back to work can have many positive effects on your mental health too. While it may increase your stress, research suggests working is good for our overall health and wellbeing, while being out of work has the opposite effect. If you have been out of work for a period of time, your health can improve when you return to the workplace.

Working can help provide a sense of purpose, which is very important for our wellbeing. It can also help build new friendships, help you feel you are a part of a team and are contributing to society, while it can of course also help with financial security.

For most people, going back to work after a period of being off sick is overwhelmingly positive, and this includes those who have had a mental health problem.

Going back to work

With most jobs, you may be able to work even if you are not 100% better, and if you can do this you will often find the benefits are greater than the downsides.

If your job is still open for you, your GP can help you decide whether you are ready to go back to work. If you both decide you are, your doctor can produce a 'fit note' for you, which will also contain advice for you, and can also suggest ways your employer can help facilitate your return to work.

You may also want to arrange a meeting with your employer before you go back, where you can discuss any concerns you may have, as well as your GP's advice. Your employer has a legal responsibility to help with any adjustments that are deemed to be reasonable to help you. In this meeting, you may want to ask about a phased return to work, adjusted working practices and responsibilities and flexible hours, especially if your medication makes you sleepy, while you can also ask for support from colleagues, and a place where you can take a break if you need to.

If you are looking for a new job, you may be able to get help from a combination of your doctor, mental health worker and the job centre. There are numerous issues to consider when looking for work. These include the type of job you feel you would be most suitable for, the location of the job, and what support you feel you may need to get into that field of work. Of course, you also need to consider your current financial status, and what impact that new job could have on you, especially if you are currently claiming any form of benefit.

You should remember that full-time work is not the only option. Part-time work may be more beneficial while you are managing your condition, and volunteering could also be beneficial.

The benefits of volunteering

Volunteering can really help you take the step back into working life, especially as there is less pressure on you. You can be the one dictating when you can be available, which means working when you are well and not needing to when you aren't so well. It can help provide a big boost in self-esteem, and helping others can help take your mind off your own worries.

Volunteering can also be an important step to gaining full-time work when you are ready again as it is useful to have on your CV, and in the meantime, you can continue to claim the benefits you need.