This year’s edition of the Mental Health Awareness Week pioneered by the Mental Health Foundation was focused on stress as a key factor for the majority of mental health-related problems. Stress really must be winning, because although we talk more eagerly about managing our thoughts, behaviours and impulses in the public sphere, the statistic still flags out quite worrying, if not entirely unhealthy patterns. Recent studies show that two-thirds of us are likely to experience a significant slip in mood over the lifetime. What’s even more troubling, according to the findings gathered by London recruitment agency Randstad, feeling down or upset is likely to deteriorate and lead to self-harmed or suicidal thoughts, for as much as 20% of us. And since an average working professional spends approximately 260 days in a year at work, it is only a matter of time before this will translate into his or her working life, and become a source of even more problems.
Although the influence of poor mental health on job productivity is highly correlated, we have only started addressing the stigma surrounding the topic quite recently. As the landscape is changing, we listed out a few reasons why it is important to seek support when returning to work after recovering from a tougher time. Whether you are joining a new job environment, or you are going back to your old stomping ground, it is worth understanding how to come to terms with what you have been through, and how to ask others for help when you need it the most.
People will empathize with you – Given the statistics, we can assume that quite a significant number of people in your office have been through a similar experience. Whether they have had to be an aid to someone struggling with mental health issues in their inner circles or needed a helping hand themselves, it is possible they will be compassionate and show an understanding. Good mental health is neither something that we can subscribe to, nor fully control. Things sometimes get out of our hand, and there is little or nothing we can do about it. Returning to work after suffering a mental health issue might be yet another stressor, however, help is out there. Only by opening up about your condition you can realize how supportive people really are. If the above reasons are not convincing enough, it might be worth consulting an occupational health adviser how to engage with your colleagues and what are the advantages or disadvantages of skirting the issue.
Employers are legally obliged to help – If common human understanding is too much to wish for, there is also the legal obligation. According to the Equality Act, 2010 employers have to play a full part in job retention and return to work by supporting adaptation and providing “ reasonable adjustments” if needed. Additional help is also provided with the government-run programme delivered by Jobcentre Plus – Access to Work, which aim is to help people keep in touch with the working world and carry on living healthy and productive lives. Familiarising yourself with your rights will give you the extra confidence you might need on the interview or while renegotiating your return to work.
Being honest will ease the adaptation phase – Although you should only get back to work when you are fully ready, the decision might not always be that simple. Especially if you struggle with financial difficulties or have family obligations. When the time off is shorter than we have initially planned it to be, being honest about your recent experience can ease the adaptation phase, and send a message to your colleagues, that there might be a time when you will need their full support. Being honest with your employer gives you the advantage of discussing the grounds for your return. It may be that flexible working hours will work best for you, or the company can contact you with a trusted mentor, that