How long can you be off work with depression in the UK

In this guide we will discuss “how long can you be off work with depression in the UK” and some additional consideration when you are an employee that is struggling with depression.

How long can you be off work with depression in the UK

The answer to How long can you be off work with depression in the UK doesn’t have a simple answer.

It will depend on your GP’s assessment and the time they decide you need to take off to get well, because if you have been struggling for a while to conceal your depression, to stop people knowing you are depressed (Smiling depression) or simply not doing well.

However, at some point it becomes very difficult to keep the depression to ourselves, contained until we decide to let it all out.

Even though depression symptoms are not those from the usual flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose or cough. 

Consider asking yourself if going to work is actually making you feel better or worse or if you think you will work at the best of your abilities.

If you are doubtful or your answer about going to work is actually making you feel worse and you feel you will not deliver at the best of your abilities then maybe you should consider talking to your GP to get some time off.

If you have already, and he/she has given you a sick note then it is important to tell your employer you will be off sick and for how long.

You are not obliged to give specific details about your mental health but if you decide how much information you share and with whom.

Statistics: UK

According to the HSE, the average prevalence of work-related stress, depression or anxiety across all industries was 1,380 cases per 100,000 workers averaged over the period 2016/17-2018-19.

However, the highest prevalence was found in Public administration and defence (2,500) followed by Human Health, and social work activities (2,120) and education (1,940), each with a statistically significantly higher rate than the average for all industries.

Additionally, they found that in terms of age and gender, females had statistically higher rates (2,390; 2,410; 2,030) compared with the average for all persons (2,020), especially in the age range of 25-54 years.

However, males did not have statistically significant rates when compared to all persons (1,490).

In terms of the causes identified for work-related stress, anxiety or depression (from the Labour Force Survey) they found in order of higher prevalence rates:

  • Workload (620)
  • Lack of support (200)
  • Violence, threats or bullying (180)
  • Other factors (180)
  • Changes at work (110)
  • Role uncertainty (70)
  • Lack of control (30)

The document that supports this information is available here.

Discrimination at work

If you have a mental illness, you may be too afraid or scared of letting your employer know because you may be worried about how they will treat you going forward.

However, as we mentioned, you are protected by the Equality Act and your employer needs to be aware about it.

If you are seriously considering telling your employer, also consider:

  • Asking your doctor for a note explaining your situation.
  • Not giving too much personal details, you are not obliged. Just mention how your mental health problem is impacting your job.
  • Who you share it with, meaning you could tell your HR manager or someone from the HR team but you don’t have to let your colleagues or your manager know about it.

In addition, if your employer did ask you in the past about your mental health or having any disabilities and you did not tell them back then but you want to do it now, make sure you get some specialist legal advice.

How can I show my employer I have a disability?

We are aware how mental health problems can be difficult to show since they are not visible, making it harder to explain to your employer.

However, some employers may be understanding and accept what you are saying without asking for additional information or proof.

Still, it is very useful to keep with you a note from your doctor or a mental health professional explaining (mind.org.uk):

  • What mental problems you have.
  • How they may affect.
  • Recommendations and adjustments that might be helpful to manage your work.

Fit for work?

According to ‘Blurt it Out’, If you have been off work with depression (clinical depression) or any other mental health condition, your employer can refer you to Fit for Work, which is a government funded initiative who can offer you advice on returning to work, refer you to occupational health or can help you create a work plan. 

Can I get sick leave for depression?

Yes, depression is considered a very real and serious mental health issue, where your doctor can issue a fit note.

When you attend your appointment with your GP be clear, honest and open about how you’re feeling.

If it helps, you can actually bring someone along with you for support.

As Health Assured mentions, “Getting medical leave for depression is a good step on the road to recovery. It’s only a step, though—use the time to assess yourself, the things you need out of life and the barriers to your happiness.”

Taking that time off is not something negative or bad, it is actually what you need to feel better and come back to work with a renewed sense of yourself. 

Can I get paid while I am off work with depression?

Depression can be a very debilitating and disabling condition.

It can reach a level where taking some time off to work on ourselves and recover might be the best option.

However, when you are off on a sick leave it is normal to worry about getting paid while you are off work.

According to ‘Blur it Out’, “The amount of time we continue to get paid at our full wage will vary from job to job, depending on our employer’s policy and how long we have been in the job.”

Depending on your employer and their policies, you could continue to get full pay for a certain amount of weeks, and then they can reduce it to half pay.

However, you could be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks when you have no longer been receiving pay from your employer and you have been off work for more than four days.

Can I keep my job if I’m signed off work with depression?

If you feel unable to do your job due to long-term illness and there are no reasonable adjustments/changes that can be made to our workplace/job then, your employer can consider a dismissal.

However, this would probably be their last option after they have attempted to make changes and adjustments to guarantee your well-being at your workplace.

Another scenario could be you feel better but you are currently unemployed.

Now you are thinking if you could apply to a new job but you may be afraid you are going to be discriminated if you admit you have had a mental health problems. 

According to the NHS “it’s illegal for employers to ask health or health-related questions before making a job offer.”

In addition, it is illegal to discriminate someone that has a health condition or a disability which is protected by the Equality Act.

You are protected against discrimination in (healthassured.org):

  • Recruitment and selection.
  • Pay, terms and conditions.
  • Sickness absence.
  • Training and development.
  • Promotion.
  • Dismissal.

Additionally, you should be aware of how to fill the ‘Return to work from‘ template, once you’ve resumed office.

Why is this blog about how long can you be off work with depression in the UK important?

As discusses the answer for how long can you be off work with depression will actually depend on your GP or hospital doctor.

He/she will decide the amount of time you need to take off work to recover and get well.

In addition, consider how mental illnesses are serious, debilitating and disabling conditions that need treatment and attention.

Also, remember how you employer can’t discriminate you for having a mental illness and can’t force you to disclose details about your mental health condition if you don’t want to.

We know you could feel very guilty and ashamed of taking some time off work but remember that it is in your best interest. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how long can you be off work with depression in the UK

Should you take time off work for depression?

Yes, you should take time off work for depression if you are struggling to cope and if it is impacting your life significantly.

Also, your GP might have issued a sick note because he/she considers you need some time off work to rest and prevent feeling even worse than what you are currently feeling. 

Can I be fired for having depression UK?

You should not be fired for having depression in the UK or anywhere in the world.

However, you need to consider the possibility of being dismissed if you have a persistent or long-term illness that makes it impossible for you to carry your job duties.

Before your employer can consider this option (should be their last resort) they will attempt to give you reasonable time to get better and if necessary make some changes/adjustments to your workplace.

Can I be sacked for being off sick with depression?

You can be sacked for being off sick with depression if you are really unable to perform your job due to long-term illness and if there are no reasonable adjustments that can be made to help you feel better at your job. 

How long can a doctor sign you off work?

You can be signed off work as long as your doctor or GP considers you should.

However, you can self-certify the first 7 days and after it, your employer will usually ask to see a fit note or a statement of fitness for work.

Can a doctor sign you off work for stress?

Yes, a doctor can sign you off work with stress if they have determined you need some time off because you may be suffering from a significant level of stress, even though stress is not considered as an illness. 

Recommended reading

  • Hardcore Self Help: F**k Depression
  • It’s Not Always Depression: A New Theory of Listening to Your Body, Discovering Core Emotions and Reconnecting with Your Authentic Self
  • Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions
  • Recovering keys from Depression: How to break free from toxic emotions into finding happiness
  • The Depression Cure: The Six-Step Programme to Beat Depression Without Drugs

References 

Scott, E. (2017, Jul.) When Should you take a mental health sick day. Retrieved from Metro.co.uk.

Durham, J. (2020, Mar.) Returning to Work After Absence due to anxiety or depression. Retrieved from Safeworkers.co.uk.

Mind.org.uk: “Discrimination at work”

Nhs.uk: “Going to work after mental health issues”

Healthassured.org: “Off work with depression what are my rights”

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