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.
Our guide offers reassurance about your rights at work when dealing with mental illness. We’ll also be giving some tips on how to ask for support to help you at work, how to take time off if you need it, and how to approach returning to work when you are ready.
How to Deal With Depression & Anxiety at Work
Depression and Anxiety are treated like any other illness under UK employment law. If your mental health is poor, then your employer has a duty of care to offer you support in the workplace.
Many people are also not sure that suffering a mental health condition is a reason to take sick leave. Rest assured, you can be signed off work by a doctor when suffering from depression or anxiety.
How to Talk to Your Manager About Mental Health
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.
Letting your employer know about a mental health issue will also make sure your employment rights are protected. This is particularly important if your work performance is being affected by anxiety or depression.
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?”
Taking Time Off With Depression & Anxiety – Your Rights
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.
Disclosing your condition gives you the opportunity to get help and support at work.
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 depression.
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.
When taking time off work, it’s important to carefully follow workplace policy on reporting sickness. This can be difficult if your mental health is poor. Failure to do this might result in disciplinary action.
Try to put some coping strategies in place about how you’ll report sickness to work when you are well. If you decide how you’ll approach this in advance, it’s likely you will navigate the situation more easily when mental health is an issue.
What Should I Tell My 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.
Phased Return to Work After Mental Health Sick Leave
The prospect of returning to work after a period of poor mental health can be a little daunting. However, you may be able to arrange a phased return to work with your employer.
In the first instance, visit your GP and discuss your return to work with them. They can provide a fit note outlining your ability to work, and requesting a phased return to help support you. You can then either request to be referred to your workplace’s occupational health, or discuss the request with your manager.
The MIND website offers great information and support on returning to work after time off due to mental health.
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.
- If you’ve been off work for a while, you might want to know if you can go on holiday when off work sick. Our guide looks at your rights to a break while on mental health or other sick leave.
Frequently Asked Questions On Anxiety & Depression at Work
The HSE report that in 2019/20 an average of 21.6 days was taken off work for anxiety or depression. The study showed that 17.9 Million UK workers needed time off, and that the mental health issues stemmed from workplace stress.
You can self certify the first 7 days of an absence for stress and anxiety. After this, you should see your doctor who will assess your mental health and sign you off for a further period if necessary.
Anxiety is a recognised mental health condition and is a valid reason to take time off from your job. It can be a very serious condition which limits ability to function in day to day life.
It’s perfectly acceptable to take time off work to aid mental health. Your employer cannot discriminate against you on grounds of poor mental health. So if you are struggling at work after a diagnosis, it’s important to let your employer know so they can support you.
If you are struggling with depression and anxiety in the workplace you might like to read our guides on:-
- Dealing with stress in the workplace – helpful if your mental health is being affected by conditions at work.
- Case study on how an employee suffering from personal and work related stress was positively supported by her workplace and colleagues.
- Taking time off for mental health – a guide to your rights when taking time off for poor mental health.
- The NHS guide to returning to work after mental health issues.
- Working days lost in Great Britain – HSE Statistics.