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Returning to Work After Absence Due to Anxiety or Depression

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 26 Jan 2020 | comments*Discuss
Returning To Work Depression Work

Two-thirds of us will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in our lives and it can be even more devastating when it forces us to take a lengthy absence from work.

Work often plays one of the largest roles in shaping our perceptions of ourselves and if we have been absent for some time due to anxiety or depression the fact that we are not working often adds to our feelings of a lack of self-worth. However, once we are on the right road to recovery, going back to work is often one of the most important factors in speeding up our return to full health. It provides us with a support network and is an opportunity to regain our sense of self-esteem and puts some routine and stability back into our lives.

Caring and Understanding Employers

Mental illness can strike anybody at any time and can have devastating consequences on the sufferer themselves and for those around them, be it work colleagues or family members. A sufferer’s personality can be transformed and it’s sometimes hard to know how to relate to them. However, it’s important to realise that, once recovered, the worker still has a lot to offer to the company, just as they did before illness struck.

An understanding and caring employer can help a lot in this respect. Rallying round with other colleagues to assist in the sufferer’s return not only will create a support network for the sufferer but will boost morale amongst other workers by showing that the employer cares about the consequences of mental illness which, as mentioned, can hit anybody at any time. This removes the barriers and breaks down any stigma attached to mental illness. It’s also important for employer’s to realise that the skills, knowledge and experience of the sufferer have not gone away. They’ve simply been ill.

Helping the Sufferer

The person returning to work may require an ‘easing back in’ to the working environment. As with other long-term sickness absences, it’s often a good idea to allow them to come back to work gradually – maybe part-time or a couple of days a week or even to offer them Flexible Working arrangements. This can help the sufferer find their feet again gradually without too much pressure.

Obviously, the situation will vary between people. Some will require a lot of support and flexibility when they return, whilst others may want to play the whole thing down and just get on with it as they used to, so they may want less fuss to be made and a more subtle approach to be implemented. Therefore, it’s always important to establish how best the employer can ease the return to work so that both they and the rest of the staff know just what is expected of them in terms of trying to make the return to work as painless and as easy as possible. The best way to do this is by talking with the sufferer before they plan to return.

From the sufferer’s perspective, if they have any specific needs, e.g. they may need time off to attend out-patient clinics, or perhaps they’re not able to do their job in exactly the same way as they did it before they became ill, they should express their concerns to their employer before they go back so that any arrangements can be put in place to make for a smooth return.

Communication, flexibility, understanding and a good support network are the most important aspects of managing an employee’s return to work following a lengthy absence due to anxiety, depression or some other kind of mental illness and it’s up to employers to take that on board or risk losing a valuable member of staff.

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Hello, I came across this whilst trying to look for some answers about a situation I’m currently going through. I have been signed off for approximately 12 weeks and have just recently gone back to work in the last 2 weeks. When I returned I was told that my role had changed slightly, I have had half my usually responsibilities taken from me and given to someone else and the other half of my job is now doing a project on a job that they can’t fill. They are saying they are doing this so there is less pressure on me and it’s best for me and they will review in a couple of months time. But I can see I’m going to be stuck doing something I don’t want and ultimately a job that I didn’t apply for. This is just making me feel worse instead of better like they say they want it to but seem pretty adamant that’s what’s happening even though I have told them the thought of them thinking I can’t do my normal job is making the initial reason I was absent from work a lot worse. Does anybody know if they can even do this? Thank you
Anon - 25-Jan-20 @ 8:40 AM
To Lyn, 10 Jan 2020. We have a lot of experience of this as my partner was hounded out of career at HMRC due to management law-breaking. An employer can ask for your consent to contact your GP, but only for the purposes of a written report. They should have advised you of your rights under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1998. One of the main rights is that you, as the patient are in control. You can ask your GP to see a copy of the report before it's released to your employer. Furthermore, you can ask your GP to amend the report if you disagree with anything, and if you're still unhappy at that stage, you can ultimately refuse to allow the report to be sent to your employer. Speak to the ACAS helpline if you need further advice. All the best and take care.
HMRC Are A Bad Emolo - 13-Jan-20 @ 4:57 PM
I was signed off sick by my gp for anxiety and depression. When i come back to work, my deputy manager told me to fill a form of consent so they can access my gp. Is this the right procedure for an employee returning to work?
Lyn - 10-Jan-20 @ 1:30 PM
To Ang, 11/12/19: A phased return should NOT affect annual leave entitlement. The hours per week that you are still absent while on a phased return will probably be recorded as sick leave. All the best.
Anon - 15-Dec-19 @ 8:23 AM
I have worked for the NHS for 11 years and have been off work for 5 weeks due to stress. Occupational health have advised me to go back to work on phased return. Can you please advise if this will be taken off my annual leave entitlement
Ang - 11-Dec-19 @ 8:03 PM
I have been off work for three months and returned to gradually get back to my full hours with depression. On my return have been told by my manager we have a new colleague who I have to work with for all of her shifts to get her to her retirement (roughly two years), said colleague is unable to do the job and is causing me to be extremely distressed, there are other people in the department who could work with her too, is this victimisation to me and could you give me any assistance in what I can do about it please.
Dante - 5-Dec-19 @ 11:59 PM
Excellent website. My partner had depression and anxiety inflicted by workplace bullying while working in the civil service (HMRC). Despite being a government department, they did all they could to force him out including breaching confidentiality, sending a managers boyfriend round to our home and fabricating documents to retrospectively invent performance issues and cover up their numerous failures regarding managing health issues. As a result he was forced out in his prime and we lost our home leaving him suicidal and broken. Always get early advice and good luck to people currently having problems with bad employers like HMRC.
Heid80 - 15-Nov-19 @ 8:32 PM
Good afternoon,I would like to get some information about my situation at work....actually to find out my rights as a employee , working at the same company for the last 8 years and 4 months.I went to see the GP with a really bad headache, dizziness,3 or 4 panic attacks per day, etc.My doctor gave me a sick notefor a week ( sent it to my employer as soon I finished)and hestarted to investigate my illness...first blood test .Next day I went back to have the results which come back as normal and the doctor referred me to hospital for CT Scan .After 3 daysI went to the Emergencywith the same problem... and in the waiting areaI had the panic attack.Thanks to the nurses and I have no idea who realised actually I was almost fainting on the chair and they took me straight to be seen by the doctor...which said I have depression and explained me how I should help myself.Next day I went to GP and I got another sick note for more 2 weeksfor “Anxiety states”( which I sent it also to my manager straight away).After aprox 30 minutes I received a call from him saying that I am not allowed to be in contact with anyone from work for my sickness period and because my last day of sickness was on Thursday he mentioned that they are giving me a more day off Friday and I should start on Monday .Back at work... during my meeting I find out actually the day he told me to stay home I have to cover, they used all my8liue days to cover all month payment ...And also he asked me what are my expectations on my return? I mentioned that I want to take my responsibilities back, working Monday to Friday and if I consider it is necessary in the weekend time to time to cover my department ... and also to have the possibility to attend to my doctor appointments ( CT Scan, Breast check,ANT ).Next month payslip I had a big surprise: 2 weeks of sickness are showing on it as 6 days absence deducted from my salary and SSP£56.55. My question is when you have a sick note from doctor can the employer consider you as being absent at work?Can I have any problems in the future at my work place?Can they use it against me for something after a while because the General Manager is our HR also and from my return she didn’t asked me anything about my illness, what happened, what problems do I have...?My return meeting I had was with the deputy manager.Please advice me.Thank you
Helen - 2-Nov-19 @ 2:09 PM
Hi i worked in a care home been there 2 months regularly working short staffed i was a team leader i was asked to cover up a medication misuse controlleddrug i refused i was constantly being mess on my phone demanding i go in on my day off to do medicationtraining i didnt make the mistakesi walked out i was due to be paid on 28 sep a sum of 700 pounds not had it sent emails and registered letter no reply
Doe - 16-Oct-19 @ 11:40 AM
Can I be paid ssp for 2 days on phased return
Shirlsworld - 15-Sep-19 @ 6:16 PM
i lost my husband of 45 years suddenly and the doctor gave me a sick note but my employer whom i have worked for fro over 16 years cam to my home today without prior noticed and wanted to know when i was going bck to work,,, my sick note doesnt run out for another week, i have been pay ssp from them for 2 weeks (this is stated on my wage slip) but now she is saying that this was paid as a favour because i dont get paid bereavement pay. She also says that she will be paying me holiday pay for the next week or so as i had these weeks booked off work for my annual holiday. i tried to explain that i was on sick leave and therefore the holiday should have been cancelled by them. i feel harrassed and bullied into making a decision when i am really not coping. i am at my doctors tomorrow and my employer said she would ring me tomorrow evening and that i had to answer my phone,,, i cant cope with all this and havent been out of the house except to my doctorswaht can i do... please i need some help
cherry - 15-Jul-19 @ 10:49 PM
I have been working at a job for nearly 6 and and half months and I have been dealing with difficult things at home with family and recent split from my boyfriend of nearly 4 years. I am struggling to cope with my work loaf and need advice as to what to do, I am going to see my GP to get help. Where I work we do shift work it’s long hours with hardly any decent breaks, we are short staffed and our office area is under construction. I asked my manager for advice and all I was told was that it was said to be that the work is stressful which it wasn’t and that they will try and support me and I would need to speak to HR regarding this... What should I do??
Teary eyes - 19-Jun-19 @ 2:34 PM
I was suspended from work for four days over nothing due to my colleagues writing bad feedbacks on me so I became depressed and anxiety ! I’m really scared going back to work but my parents are forcing me to go back to work but I really don’t want to ! What do I do ? Please help me
Miss Emz - 13-Jun-19 @ 10:45 AM
I have been signed off work for 2 weeks due to stress/ depression. This has been an ongoing problem for me over the past couple of years but things have come to an all time low over the last month. If I was to hand my notice in I'm unsure of what would happen next??
Annaapple - 9-Jun-19 @ 10:06 AM
I was diagnosed depression and was given medication for two and half years. The doctor advised me to avoid taking serious decisions during my medication.In fact, I was doing my work but I used to lose temper like anything, it has to the point where I crossed my limits to my boss in particular as he was not reasonably competent to the work he handle.My situation went so complicated and I struggled to explain to my doctor that I may expose my reputation and offended my boss and some difficult people at work.I finally could get the report from my doctor when I collapsed in front of him into a bad cry.He the reilaized I was more in suffer than he expected.Thanks to the HR manager who helped me to get early retirement with compensation of being ill at work.Luckily it was a year remaining to get the official early retirement at age of 50. The first year was wonderful but later I start to feel worth-less and it is a bad feeling in addition my wife starts to feel different about me when I go outside for short trips. New form of pressure comes to me that makes life again not so peaceful and comfortable. I am thinking to go back to work as to have different value despite I do not go back as financial reason but to start again as valuable person.
Qudi - 2-May-19 @ 3:17 PM
Is this really the advice you give? If you don't want to go back then hand in your notice!!! Wow!!!
S - 12-Apr-19 @ 6:26 PM
Hi I have been of work now for 3 months with stress and depression and anxiety I missed 1 HR meeting and have been giving a second meeting and in the letter they are talking about dismissing me can they do this for only 3 months
Jayjay - 27-Feb-19 @ 2:48 PM
I was booked off work for 4 weeks due to Anxiety, Stress and Depression.I went back to work for a week, and then I could not cope, and was booked off for a further 3 weeks.I am now back at work with a phased return to work for 6 weeks as per my doctors instructions.I go to work every day, just some of my duties are to be restricted, but my manager has told me after 2 weeks into the phased return that if I do not return to my full duties, they will deduct some of my salary until I can do my duties completely.Is my manager allowed to do that?
Sha - 17-Jan-19 @ 5:25 PM
Hi I recently come out of work with stress depression and anxiety I’m under mental health I tried to commit Suicide I’ve been off for like 6 weeks now, I’m I’m scared there thought of going back to work? I don’t feel like I’m ready yet is it normal to feel this way I just feel guilty all the time.
Ria - 20-Oct-18 @ 5:48 AM
i have duffer 3 yr depression bms butning in mouth take off work 2 times i supposed go in dont have certificate for leave anyone have burningmouth psychologistdont help because pills haven'tgone counselling.
natty - 20-Sep-18 @ 5:57 AM
Hi. I have had a terrible ordeal about 2 years 6 months back dealing with my girlfriends suicide and was depressed and mentally unclear. I had resigned from work about a year ago and now that I am a bit better realised I made a bad decision as I wasn't thinking clearly and was still depressed. Is it possible to get my old job back. Can anyone .....Please advise me... Thank you
Yuven - 14-Aug-18 @ 7:08 PM
Hi I have not worked k for nearly 10 years and I feel that with my condition (Anxiety, depression with panic attacks) I will probably not go beck to work before retirement age ie 55. I have requested an ill health form from my pension provider to get access to the small amount I have in it but I have to ask my Doctor to sign and stamp it. I am nervous of this as can they refuse to sign it even though I have been getting treatment for these conditions for over 20 years. I'm 44. Many thanks, Mark.
Mark - 13-Jul-18 @ 8:17 AM
Hi, I've been off work with severe anxiety and depression for several years. I feel I am.at the level now where I can return to work. I have no idea what to do or how to go about it.What's the best thing I can do?
J-rock - 13-Jun-18 @ 11:07 AM
I was signed off of work for 3 weeks due to depression. On my return I found out that my boss had put someone else within my position and I was moved into a different department. He told me that "he honestly didn't think I was going to return to work" when the week prior my dad had told him the exact date and there was no effort to try and contact me about my return. I am now unable to get my position back. Have I been treated unfairly and is there anything I can do? It's making me want to quit work.
DaisyDukes98 - 31-May-18 @ 11:06 AM
i was diagnosed with hypertrophy cardiomyoparthy, uncontrolled high blood pressure and severe anxiety and depression. i was awarded pip because it has affected my day to day life and mobility. my work has been brilliant by moving me somewhere that has a lift sowont use the stairs. because of complicaions with my heart and lack of bp control and almost having a heart attack in feb i have been off for two months now. Occupational health is aware and have requested for a medical report to make recommendations to management and it might take another 4-6 weeks to go back to my work as recommended by my doctors. i am really nervous i may be fired even though i am absolutely brilliant at my job and hit my target. Now i am under pressure to go back but afraid to disobey my doctors.The problem i have is not with my ability to do the job. should i be scared to go back and what should i do.
jojo - 11-May-18 @ 8:05 PM
Gem - Your Question:
Hi I am wondering if you can help. I have been off of work due to severe anxiety and depression, I have been off work for nearly 9 months now. For the first 28 weeks I received SSP but now I am on Universal Credit/ESA through an SSP1 form but my doctor advised the best idea for me would be to change workplace. Am I obligated to return to this workplace after the fit note has run done? Thank you in advance.

Our Response:
If you don't want to go back, you should hand in your notice to your employer.
SafeWorkers - 28-Mar-18 @ 1:01 PM
Hi I am wondering if you can help. I have been off of work due to severe anxiety and depression, I have been off work for nearly 9 months now. For the first 28 weeks I received SSP but now I am on Universal Credit/ESA through an SSP1 form but my doctor advised the best idea for me would be to change workplace. Am I obligated to return to this workplace after the fit note has run done? Thank you in advance.
Gem - 26-Mar-18 @ 7:48 PM
Hi I was off work for 6 weeks with work related stress in return to work I was jus expected to carry on like normal I never had a back to work interview and as I was only one on shift to give drugs I had to give out the drugs i did a drug error can I be disciplined when I’ve not had a official return to work interview and my concerns of been left with all drugs on second day back to do as they hadn’t staffed Home properly
Mo - 19-Mar-18 @ 6:53 AM
I was diagonois.with rhoiothriates.Arthritus and ended in hospital I am on lots of Ned for the rest of my like I returned back to work doing 6 half days for 3 months but it was to much for me with my mobility with walking I have see a ocopathanice therapy which she advised me to work 2 days 3off I work 3 days I work 12hr shift but I decides to work my 2 days I work one week 2days in 3off 2days in 1off 2days in 4off I have been doing this for 2months now now and I am struggling I would like to change my hours and day can my employee do that for me .
Debs - 1-Mar-18 @ 3:35 PM
Sbk - Your Question:
I was taken out of work for 2 weeks due to anxiety stress and depression now my employer wants a physical return to work form filled out the psychiatrist that pulled me out of work says they cannot fill this out and the letter they gave me is good enough how do I get myself back to work

Our Response:
Can you ask your GP to do the form for you on the basis of what the psychiatrist says?
SafeWorkers - 28-Feb-18 @ 3:32 PM
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