Returning to work after mental health issues

If you’ve had time away from work, or have been long term unemployed due to mental or emotional health problems, you’re not alone. Almost 50% of long-term absences from work are due to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

People who have had a mental health problem and been out of work often worry about going back. Common concerns include facing discrimination or bullying, and going back too soon and feeling unwell again.

According to a recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists on mental health and work, “…many people with mental health problems fear that, no matter how good a recovery they have made, their symptoms will be made worse by going back to work.”

However, although work can cause stress to some people in some situations, recent research shows that for most people:

  • Work is beneficial to health and wellbeing.
  • Not being in work is detrimental to health and wellbeing.
  • Re-employment after a period of being out of work leads to an improvement in health and wellbeing.

The benefits of being in work can include:

  • a greater sense of identity and purpose
  • an opportunity to build new friendships
  • an improved financial situation and security
  • a feeling that you’re playing an active part in society

Going back to work after a period of ill health is usually a positive experience. This applies to people who have had severe mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, as well as people coping with more common issues such as anxiety.

Returning to your job after taking sick leave

You don’t have to be 100% better or well to do your job, or at least some of it, and the benefits of returning to work generally outweigh the downsides.

If you already have a job that is still open for you, talk to your GP about going back to work. They can give you advice as part of your fit note. The fit note includes space for your GP to give you general advice about the impact of your illness, and to suggest ways in which your employer could support your return to work.

You may then like to arrange a meeting with your employer and/or your occupational health advisor. You can discuss anything that concerns you about returning to work, including your GP’s recommendations, and ask for some adjustments to make the transition back into work easier. Under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and the Equality Act (2010), your employer has a legal duty to make "reasonable adjustments" to your work. Depending on your particular circumstances, you might like to ask about:

  • Flexible hours, for instance you might like to return part-time, 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 to for a break when needed.

Access to Work

The Government provides support to help people with mental health problems continue to work, or find a new job.

You can find out more about the Access to Work scheme on the GOV.UK website. An Access to Work grant helps pay for practical support so that you can continue to do your job.

Looking for a new job

If you’re unemployed and want to get back into work, staff at your local Job Centre, your GP or your mental health worker can all give you advice about getting back into work. 

If you have ongoing mental health issues, you can speak to the Disability Employment Advisor at your local Job Centre. They can tell you about the opportunities that are available to help people with mental health problems get back to work.

There are a number of different issues to consider and research when you're thinking about getting back to work, including:

  • where you would like to work
  • what kind of work you’d like to do
  • what type of support you may need
  • your current financial situation, including any benefits you’re receiving related to your health

Full-time paid employment is not the only option available to you. There are a number of possibilities that may suit you, such as part-time work, or volunteering.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a popular way of getting back into working life. Helping other people in need is great for your self-esteem and can help take your mind off your own concerns. Plus, volunteer work can improve your chances of getting a paid job when you’re ready, and until then you can continue to claim your benefits. Find out more about how to volunteer.

Your rights and the law

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

However, new provisions in the Equality Act 2010 make it illegal for employers to ask health or health-related questions before making a conditional offer of employment. Furthermore, it is illegal under the Equalities Act to discriminate against any kind of disability, including mental health issues.

Further information

You can also find information on GOV.UK about:

Page last reviewed: 29/04/2013

Next review due: 29/04/2015

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