Many people experience stress in day to day life. It might be work related or a response to personal problems. Sometimes the strain on your mental health can become so severe it affects your ability to perform day to day tasks. This can include your job, which may mean you need to be signed off work with stress.
Mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression are no different to physical illnesses.
Needing to take time off work for stress is perfectly acceptable. Your doctor will be happy to provide a sick note to give you time to recover your mental health.
How Common Are Mental Health Problems in the Workplace?
First of all, understand that you are not alone. Stress related illness and other mental heath issues are rarely spoken about, but they occur in every UK workplace.
If you are under mental strain, and are worried about it being unnacceptable to take time off work – you are not alone.
Workplace Mental Health Statistics
- In 2023 76% of workers reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress. This is up from 67% in 2022. 
- Almost 1 in 4 employees are experiencing “clinically relevant” symptoms of anxiety, which means they would benefit from professional help to support mental health. 
- 19% of employees have a current mental health diagnosis. 
- In 2022 7.9% of reported sickness absences were because of mental health. 
- 14.9 million sick days were taken by UK employees in 2022 due to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. 
If you feel stressed to the point it’s affecting your ability to do your job, it’s important to take action.
Mental illness in the workplace should be treated in the same way as physical illnesses. There should be support available. Stress, depression, and anxiety are all valid reasons to take sick leave from work.
Self Certifying for Mental Health Issues
If you are suffering poor mental health and needing some time off then the same rules apply as any other illness.
The process for being signed off work with stress related illness is straightforward. You can self certify for the first 7 days of being off work with stress, and do not have to visit your GP.
Mental health problems fall under the same rules on sickness as other illnesses within the workplace. It is important to read and understand your contract and follow correct procedure.
This means if you are regularly waking up thinking “I don’t want to go to work” and it’s causing you to struggle with day to day tasks – it’s perfectly acceptable to self certify on grounds of stress.
See also: How many days can you self-certify in the UK?
When You Need to See a GP to Get a Sick Note for Stress
If your illness prevents you from returning after 7 days then your employer will request a sick note. This can only be obtained from a medical professional, usually your doctor.
All you need to do is make an appointment, and you’ll be assessed and given a sick note. The document will either say you are not fit to work, or it will say you are fit to work with reasonable adjustments. This may mean reducing your working hours, taking on less work, or other similar changes.
Your sick note will not contain sensitive medical information on your condition.
What to Say to the Doctor to Get Signed off Work With Stress or Anxiety
The thought of talking with the doctor about stress or anxiety can be uncomfortable. But try not to worry, your doctor has these conversations every day and will be understanding.
Being prepared for your appointment and that conversation will help you compose yourself mentally. Here’s some tips on what to say to the doctor to get signed off work with stress or anxiety.
- Don’t worry. Attitudes and acceptance of illnesses such as stress have changed a lot over the years. Being open and honest is the best way to tackle these conversations.
- Make some notes about how you are feeling. Even just some words to prompt you will help settle nerves. Sometimes we don’t manage to gather our thoughts when nervous. Having them on paper will mean you don’t leave anything important out. If you become emotional, you can let your doctor read about what’s been happening and take the appointment from there.
- Be upfront about the reason for your stress – whether it is work related or due to something else. It is important that the doctor understands the whole picture. If they know what is causing the stress they can help with the best course of action for you.
- Give some examples of how you are feeling day to day and why you feel your mental health is not as good as it should be.
How to Describe Your Stress to a GP
Even armed with this information you might still be worrying about what to say once you are with the doctor.
Here are some examples of how you can initiate the conversation about your poor mental health:-
- “I have felt stressed for a while now but it has increasingly become worse over the last little while. I don’t feel myself and it’s affecting my ability to work and live my life day to day”.
- “My anxiety levels are worse than ever before and these feelings are affecting both my work and my general well-being”.
- “Work has been very stressful lately and I am struggling to cope with going in every day. I feel tired, depressed, and tearful all the time at the moment”.
- “My concentration levels are poor and I feel I am not able to fulfil my usual job roles. I am forgetful and feel so anxious all of the time”.
Your doctor will need a little more information from you. But these opening lines will get the ball rolling and allow that sick note to be written.
Symptoms of Stress
Symptoms of stress will typically vary from person to person and they can manifest themselves in different ways. If you are having difficulty identifying the effects that your mental health issues are having on you, the following signs and symptoms of stress may help you ahead of speaking with your GP.
Make a note of any emotional or physical symptoms you may be experiencing and describe what’s happening to your doctor.
Some of the common symptoms of stress can be found below and have been categorised as physical and emotional signs:
Emotional Signs of Stress
- Feeling tearful
- Being irritable or angry
- Lack of concentration
- Lack of motivation
- Overwhelmed with your life
- Trouble switching your thoughts off
- Lack of interest
- Depression or feeling low
- Feelings of losing yourself
- Having worried thoughts
- In severe cases, suicidal thoughts
The symptoms of stress can extend beyond emotional impacts and begin to take a very real toll on physical health. In severe cases you can suffer lifelong medical issues as a result of untreated stress.
Physical Signs of Stress
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Heart racing
- Difficulty breathing
- Problems sleeping
- Loss of or increased appetite
- Blurred vision
- A feeling of extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Muscle aches and pains
- Tummy problems such as constipation or diarrhoea
- Feeling nauseous
- Weight loss or gain
- High blood pressure
Experiencing stress can affect your physical health as well as your mental health. It’s vital to take time off work to rest and recover to make sure your mind and body are fit and healthy.
When you read and digest these lists, it is easy to see why stress and anxiety can impact a person’s work life very significantly. Trying to do your usual day to day tasks while carrying the burden of some or all of these symptoms, is very hard to do.
Human beings vary too, so some individuals may be able to deal with stress better than others. There is no shame in reaching out and telling someone you are struggling at work because of mental illness.
If you are suffering severe symptoms of stress and need help right now, please contact the Samaritans. You can call them, or email them. Emails are responded to within 24 hours, but their phone lines are manned at all times.
What’s The Maximum Time Off For Stress?
The amount of time you spend signed off work with stress will depend on many factors. This includes what might be causing the illness, how well you’re dealing with it, and what your job entails. T
A GP sick note will indicate how long a patient is expected to be off work due to stress related health problems. Sick notes can be extended on an ongoing basis. There’s no maximum limit on time off work for stress.
Once the sick note is up, all you have to do is return to your GP for reassessment. They will then extend your time off work until you feel sufficiently recovered to return to work.
Your GP may also recommend a phased return to work to help you reintegrate into your workplace.
Rights When Signed off Work with Stress
The most important thing to understand is that you have the right to take time off work with stress. Your statutory employment rights are not affected by taking time off for your mental health.
In the first instance, check your employment contract to see what your employer offers to staff who are off sick. They may offer more help than the statutory minimum sick pay. They may also have procedures they will follow if you end up being sick for a longer period.
Employer’s Duty of Care & Work Related Stress
If your stress is work related, it’s important that you are aware your workplace has a duty of care for work related stress. That means they are legally obligated to take steps to protect your health at work. This includes mental health.
It’s important to always follow work procedures and policies around sickness. One area that often causes concern is the need for work to contact you when off sick with stress.
If your stress is work related, you should have a conversation with HR or your manager. This may be a difficult thought, but acknowledging the problem and asking your employer to help will be the first step to reducing the pressure you’re experiencing.
You will be entitled to sick pay while you are off sick with stress in the same way as you would be for a physical illness.
The amount you receive, however, will come down to your contract. If you don’t get company sick pay you will receive SSP at the rate of £109.40 per week for a maximum of 28 weeks. SSP rates are £109.40 per week since April 2023.
After these 28 weeks, you might be entitled to other benefits including ESA. Our guide on what happens when sick pay runs out has detailed information on financial support.
Holidays are needed by us all as a way to rest and escape the daily grind from time to time. This is often more so the case when you are under a lot of stress or suffering from another mental illness.
Are you worried about going on holiday while off sick with stress in case it looks bad? Don’t fret, it is perfectly acceptable to take a holiday while you are off work sick. Just make sure your employer is in receipt of your sick note before going. You should also be cleared for travelling by your GP.
If you are concerned that you may be dismissed for taking time off with stress, our guide will help.
Being off sick does not affect your holiday entitlements, and they will continue to accrue as normal.
Does Being Signed Off With Stress Affect Future Employment?
There should be no impact on your future employment prospect because you’ve been signed off work with stress.
Your employer should not take any time off you’ve had in the past as a result of stress or mental health issues into account when considering you for promotion or a salary increase.
Records of taking time off for stress related illness or any mental health condition should never be passed on as part of references for a new job.
If your stress will prevent you from going to work for more than 7 days then you can request a sick note from your GP. You can self-certify for the first 7 days which includes non-working days as well.
You can self certify for the first 7 days of illness. After this point, your employer will request a sick note from your GP.