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In work

Last updated Thursday, 21st Feb 2013

Being in work can provide you with a sense of purpose and achievement. It can also provide friendships, a feeling of belonging and structure to your everyday routine. If you have gone back to work after a period of ill health, you may be concerned about how you are going to manage and how you will be treated by other people.

You may be at work but worried about how your job or other things in your life are affecting your mental health. You may want to think about how you manage your mental health and your work life to ensure that you maintain your mental wellbeing while in work.

Returning to work after a period of ill health

We all become unwell at times. Everyone will have suffered from a cold, headaches or other common ailments from time to time. Some people will have had time off for a bad back or because they needed an operation. Taking time off to recover from a mental health problem, should be seen as no different to those people who have taken time off for a physical illness. However, we know that there is still a great deal of ignorance and lack of understanding about mental health – and this might make it more difficult to return to work after a period of illness.

What will people think?

You may be worried what others might think, but many people find that their work colleagues are busy thinking about their own lives, and although they may be sympathetic about your situation, they may not have spent much time wondering about why you were off. Some people find it helpful to speak about why they have been off as it gives work colleagues a better understanding of their experiences.

Most people will deal with a mental health issue at some point in their lives. For example, one in four people will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year. However, few people talk about their experience, which may make it seem as though you are one of the only people at work who has had issues with their mental health. Talking about your mental health, may lead to people being more supportive.

Sadly though, some people find that they are met with ignorance and a lack of kindness when they talk about their mental health. Ultimately, you will need to make a judgement about how comfortable you feel sharing your experience. It might be worth confiding in one or two more trusted colleagues to start with before deciding whether to talk to anyone else about what has happened.

Making some changes

Coming back to work for fewer hours to start with can be useful. You may want to ask your employer if you can start back to work gradually, perhaps just a few hours a day. You may want to ask for your hours to be reduced permanently. You may want to ask to change elements of your job. If your mental health issue is regarded as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, your employer will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their premises or work practices to take account of your mental health needs.

If you are experiencing problems with your mental health it will impact upon your working life. You may want to consider whether there are things you or others can do to help you manage. The national mental health charity Mind has a guide to surviving working life that has useful tips and advice to help you think about what might help.

Getting help and taking time off

If you know what you are likely to need, you may be able to make or negotiate in advance the conditions that will allow you to help yourself. Afterwards, when you are feeling better, consider talking through what there is to learn from the situation, and telling your employer what your needs are, for the future. If you are worried about your mental health, or other people are expressing concerns, you may want to get professional help. If you work for a large organisation, you may have access to an occupational health service. However, you may prefer to talk to your own GP or a counsellor. You may need time off work. You are as entitled to take time off work for a mental health issue, as you would be if you had any other health problem.


One in five people experiences workplace stress, with half a million people reporting they have become ill as a result. If you have a job that challenges you, you should expect to feel some pressure at work. However, when that pressure is excessive and you suffer an adverse reaction to it, it has become stress. Stress can have a negative impact upon your mental health.

Legally, your employer must take care of your health and safety when you are at work – and this includes your mental health. Typical causes of work-related stress include poor communication, a bad working environment and skills not matching those that are needed for the job. Stress can also be triggered by events away from work, such as bereavement, money worries and illness. NHS Choices has devised a short test to help you find out if your job is leading to stress. It will provide you with a short assessment, useful guidance and links to get further information. Mind has a quick guide and a more in-depth guide to managing stress.


Workplace bullying occurs when someone persistently acts in a discriminatory way towards an employee which hurts, criticises or condemns them. Being bullied or harassed at work can make people feel stressed, unhappy and unwell. Mind’s booklet on How to deal with bullying at work may help you if you think you are being bullied.

Staying well at work

For each of us there will be different things that will help us stay happy and well at work. Being clear about these and trying to put them in place can make a real difference to staying well. Here are some of the things people have said make a positive impact on their working life:

  • having the support of my employer
  • not having to hide my feelings
  • being able to tell people that I have to look after my mental health and avoid certain triggers
  • knowing people will tell me if they think I may be overdoing it – in a supportive way
  • making my workplace feel personal and pleasant
  • support to manage my workload
  • changing my hours so that I could still attend my support group once a week
  • a supportive manager
  • a chance to take a bit of time out when feeling stressed – even if it’s just to stop for a cup of tea somewhere quiet
  • being able to meet with my support worker within working hours.

Time To Change guide to Staying in Employment may provide some helpful information.

Employment and vocational services

In Kent and Medway there are employment and vocational services which can help you if you are worried that your mental health may affect your ability to stay in work.

Support for employers

If your employer would like to find out more about how to support its employees with their mental health, you can direct them to the employers and mental health part of Signpost UK.

Your rights at work

As an employee, you have rights under employment and health and safety legislation. If you have a mental health problem which is regarded as having a substantial and long-term effect on your ability to carry out everyday tasks, you may also be regarded as having a disability and will have rights under disability rights legislation.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) provides free, independent advice. It has an online advice guide which contains practical, reliable, up-to-date information including frequently asked questions in English, Welsh, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu and Chinese on a wide range of topics and factsheets to download. Local CAB branches provide support face-to-face or over the telephone. Some branches offer support using email. To find your nearest branch, go to the CAB website and enter your postcode.

WorkSMART is the Trade Union Congress (TUC) website aimed at helping people get the best from work. It provides free comprehensive, plain-English guides to all aspects of your employment rights, your health at work, and pay and pensions, as well as a jargonbuster to explain technical terms and an interactive trade union finder.

    Mental Health and Work A-Z