Absence From Work Due to Anxiety or Depression – How To Deal With Taking Time Off & Returning to Work

Two-thirds of us will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in our lives. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common reasons for taking sick leave from work. These illnesses can strike suddenly, and the nature of anxiety and depression can make it difficult for workers to navigate the process of taking time off work sick, and successfully returning to the workplace.

Work is often strongly linked to feelings of self worth. A long time off work for stress and anxiety can affect confidence and make returning to work difficult. Getting the process of returning to work right is an important factor in recovery from stress and depression.

A successful return to work process can aid recovery from mental illness. Work often plays one of the largest roles in shaping our perceptions of ourselves. If an employee has been off work for a long time, it can affect feelings of self worth and exacerbate mental illness. Properly managed, the work environment can provide a support network and help to regain a sense of routine and stability.


How To Call in Sick With Depression & Anxiety

If you suffer from persistent depression or anxiety, it’s important to feel able to tell your employer why you can’t work. If you hide the issue and pretend you are unwell for another reason, your workplace might start to suspect your reasons for absences are a discliplinary issue.

Under the Equality Act 2010, long term mental health issues are considered a protected condition. Your workplace has a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for disabilities, including those caused by poor mental health. To be protected under the act, you need to have been unwell for more than 12 months.

How To Make Your Manager Aware Of Mental Health Issues

It can be daunting bringing up issues of mental health in the workplace if it is persistently affecting your work life. Remember that you are not obliged to disclose any mental health issues. However, if you feel able to let your manager know you are struggling with anxiety and depression it can provide immediate support. Instances when you need to call in sick will also be much easier to navigate.

If you can raise the subject when you are well rather than during a period of poor mental health, the process will be much easier.

Here are some ideas on how to broach the subject with your manager:-

  • Send an email, saying you need to discuss mental health issues in private with them and ask to set up a meeting.
  • When you speak to your boss, keep things brief and professional. Disclose what’s happening and how it is affecting your work.
  • If you have a more informal relationship with your boss, you can raise it by using phrases such as “I need to talk, have you got time for a chat about a problem that’s affecting me?”

How To Call in Sick With Depression & Anxiety

It’s important to let your employer know you can’t attend work as soon as possible if you need to take time off work for anxiety and depresison. Do not wait until you are due on shift to phone in. If you decide the evening before, send a text or an email. Do not leave a message with a co-worker. It’s important to communicate directly with your manager.

In terms of what you need to tell them, you do not need to give detailed reasons for an absence. You are within your rights to simply say “I am unwell and will not be able to work today” alongside a broad reason for this. You can simply say “due to mental health”. If you’ve previously approached your manager and discussed your issues with anxiety and depression, this is likely to be much easier.

If this is the first time you’ve called in sick with depression or anxiety, you may have some flexibility to say you have a tummy bug or a virus. Once you return to work, do consider having the conversation with them if you are still struggling.

Our guide to your rights during sickness and calling in sick to work has information on sick notes, and entitlement to sick pay.


Longer Term Absences & Returning to Work

If you’ve been signed off work by a doctor, the process of returning to work can feel daunting. However, with the right support and a carefully managed return, things can go smoothly. Your workplace should be receptive to making reasonable adjustments to support you during the transition.

How Long Can I Be Signed Off Work With Depression & Anxiety?

You can take up to 7 days off work without requiring a sick note (now known as a fit note) from your doctor. There’s no set period of time to be signed off work with depression or anxiety. The doctor will keep signing you off for as long as your symptoms prevent you from working.

Being off work for mental health related issues is very common, you are not alone.

Returning To Work After Sick Leave For Depression & Anxiety

Before returning to work, it’s a good idea to see your GP. Discuss your condition, and any ongoing support you might need.

Your GP may be able to suggest things that you should raise with your employer. This is particularly important if you have been suffering work related stress. Set up a meeting with your manager or HR and discuss your concerns. You can raise any points made by your GP. You can ask for:-

  • A phased return to work, with flexible working such as part time hours or shorter working days initially.
  • Specific support being made available during your working day, perhaps from a work colleague.
  • Support for time off to attend necessary medical appointments.
  • The ability to take a break in a designated area if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
  • Alterations to workload or management of tasks.

Your employer is obligated to make reasonable adjustments if you are considered to be suffering from a mental health disability. The Health and Safety Executive Labour Force Survey 2018/19 found that 54% of lost work days was due to work related stress, depression and anxiety. With this in mind, your workplace should have a health and safety policy relating to employee mental health. If your workplace has such a policy, it may be worth familiarising yourself with it.


Further Reading

If you are struggling with depression and anxiety in the workplace you might like to read our guides on:-

Last Updated on 9 August 2021

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