Going back to work after months of absence due to mental health issues such as depression can be uncomfortable, anxiety provoking even.
Some of the ways in which you can prepare to rejoin the workforce includes:
- Checking in with your mental health status
- Educating yourself about your rights and the laws that protect you
- Reconnecting with your colleagues
- Collaborating with your manager for easier work adjustment
- Managing gaps in your resume
- Being selective of your choices
- Taking care of yourself
In this guide we will take a closer look at the possible plan of action mentioned above so that your readjustment to the workforce can be easier and you, more prepared to handle challenges that come along the way.
Going back to work: Pros and Cons
The goal of any mental health treatment is to get you to a point where you are able to function and manage the demands of your daily life- this also includes your career and employment.
Going back to work can have a positive impact on your mental health. Research has found that re-employment is related to significant improvement of one’s mental health.
It also allows for financial improvement and gives the person a sense of agency. The workplace environment will also allow you to develop social connectedness and a sense of purpose.
However, you also have to understand that long term employment without proper work life balance can also have adverse effects on one’s mental health such as burn out, compassion fatigue, less sense of satisfaction, debilitating mental health, anxiety, stress, and depression.
It is important that you are aware of the pros and cons of re-entering the workforce so that you can make mindful decisions related to your employment and the responsibilities that come along with it.
Rejoining the workforce:
Before we begin discussing what you can actively do to rejoin the workforce, you have to take time to reflect on the anxiety and worry that come with starting all over again.
That is how you might be feeling, that you have to start for scratch- that you are back to square one. Take a moment to reflect on this objectively.
If you have taken a leave of absence, it means that you have had experience in the work prior. Your depression does not take away the skills you have gained over the years.
The depression itself could have made it difficult to apply these skills, and it might take some time for you to get back to the same level as you once were. However, the skill and value you can bring to the table is still present which makes you a valuable human resource.
Here are some of the things you can do to help you readjust to the workforce after not having worked for months because of depression:
Checking in with your mental health status
Once you have begun to consider that perhaps it is time for you to go back to work, first thing is first- checking your mental health status.
Having a talk with your therapist or your doctor to assess how you are doing can help you become aware of where you stand in terms of adaptability.
Your therapist or counsellor can also help you prepare a step by step process- one that is more up to your speed- in applying for jobs or reconnecting with your previous employer.
Developing mental resilience is an important part of your mental health journey towards healing, so taking the time to assess how you can apply the skills learned during your therapeutic journey to work life can be beneficial.
If you aren’t in therapy, it is advisable that reach out to one to help you make the transition easier.
Educating yourself about your rights and the laws that protect you
Educate yourself about the laws that are related to mental health in the workplace and laws that take disabilities into consideration. You can also consult with your workplace if you are planning to go back about the policies that protect your well-being.
It is important to remember that each country has different laws, there may also be state laws that differ in protecting employees and their well-being. So taking time to understand these policies and laws can help protect your privacy if needed,
Collaborating with your manager for easier work adjustment
If you plan to go back to the same place of work, one of the first things you can do is reach out to your manager or the HR of the company you work in. You can do it in person or send an email.
If your leave of absence had been agreed on, your position should still be open to you. So taking the time to get reacquainted with the work by collaborating with your manager to discuss flexibility, lesser workload, reasonable readjustment is advisable.
You might have to take with you a note from your doctor or therapist, necessary documents that attest to your needs. Talking to HR management regarding policies can also be a step in the right direction.
Managing gaps in your resume
If you are applying to a new job, taking time to plan out your resume and the interview process could be helpful. Preparing an explanation as to why there is a gap in your resume is advisable.
You can address the issue in the cover letter if you’d like to, or you could simply avoid addressing it by creating a functional resume which highlights your skills and experience rather than the periods of employment.
Being selective of your choices
Who is to say that you cannot choose the best jobs for yourself? If you are seeking a new job, take time to consider the policies of possible places of employment.
Selecting places of work that focuses on their employees mental health as much as their performance can be a good choice since it shows that they are open to discussing flexibility and well-being.
You have to remember that you have much to offer for any company or work place and because you are valuable, you deserve to be cared for by your employers. That includes mental health policies that protect you.
Take care of yourself
The job search period can be stressful so is rejoining and readjusting to your workplace. Your routine will change, and the daily demands of your life might intensify.
It is during this time that you might find yourself emotionally distressed, physically exhausted even. Taking moments during your day to relax and give yourself rest becomes important.
Make an effort to be mindful of what you can and cannot take on, even after you join the workforce. Be honest with yourself and your employers about your boundaries.
Be in touch with your emotions and seek to carve out activities you enjoy, meet people that bring you joy and meaning during your free time so as to maintain work life balance.
Frequently asked questions related to “Going back to work after depression (Tips on how you can go back to work after months of absence)
Can depression prevent you from working?
Depression can impact a person’s ability to perform optimally because it can reduce a person’s tolerance to stress, make them emotionally distressed, affect their energy levels and concentration.
Often times, it is the work place environment and its demands that can trigger stress related anxiety and depression which can further impact a person’s performance which in turn makes the symptoms worse.
How do I go back to work after anxiety related issues?
Some simple things you can do to get back to work are
- Reconnect with your colleagues so that you can catch up on new developments and work,
- Plan to visit work before you return sot hat you can get used to the place again.
- Ask to return to work gradually by speaking to your manager about your present limits,
- Start to readjust to your working hours by making changes in the routine you might have followed previously
- Make use of peer support services and services provided by your place of employment to help you adjust.
Why am I scared of going to work?
Your past experiences in the workplace which might have caused you to leave the workplace itself can cause anxiety if you are to return it.
Our anxiety is triggered by our negative thoughts and beliefs that we have developed due to our experiences- be it workplace harassment, work related stress and demands, or peer relationships.
Taking the time to work out these anxious thoughts and learning how to be assertive in the workplace is advisable.
How long can you be off work with anxiety and depression?
There isn’t a specific answer to this question. It will depend on your workplace policies, the state laws that protect your well-being.
However, if you are going to take a look at it subjectively, you can take as long as you need to feel better before going back. Your mental health matters since your performance is also affected by it.
Putting yourself first and trying to heal and develop resilience cannot be set up to a timeline.
Is going back to work good for depression?
Work can improve a person’s physical and mental well‑being; as it helps build confidence and self-esteem, allows people to connect, and give them a sense of agency.
However, the work they choose to do must not cost them their mental health. If they are able to attain work life balance, going back to work and applying yourself to the job at hand can be very rewarding and give you a sense of purpose which inturn positively improve your mental health.
Hämmig, O., & Bauer, G. (2009). Work-life imbalance and mental health among male and female employees in Switzerland. International journal of public health, 54(2), 88-95.
Hoare, P. N., & Machin, M. A. (2010). The impact of reemployment on access to the latent and manifest benefits of employment and mental health. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83(3), 759-770.