#Wellbeing series: A guide to managing work with a mental health problem

Work and Mental Health – A guide to managing work with a mental health problem

Buzz Manchester Health & Wellbeing Service

Work can help the body and mind by providing a routine and structure to the day as well as give you a sense of purpose. 

Work can give us financial benefits, security, sense of self-reliance and independence.

Work can prevent you from mental health problems, but you need to find the right balance and place of work. 

Working in general is good for your mental health.

If you feel like your work is causing you stress and starts to be a problem you should talk to your line manager and they should help you with the problem. 

You can protect your mental health and help your body to deal with stress by:

  • Being more active, such as walking
  • Relaxation such as yoga, mindfulness, breathing skills
  • Hobbies and leisure activities 
  • Spending time with your friends and family
  • Try not to withdraw and isolate yourself at work or in your personal life ans try to keep up with the social aspect of work

There are five ways to wellbeing in the workplace:

  1. Connect – stay connected with your colleagues, a few minutes of chat or talk can help you keep the social benefits of work
  2. Be active – exercise helps to keep your mind and body active and cal also boost your ‘get up and go’ outlook. There are easy ways to buld in a bit of exercise – take stairs, walk to work, do a short walk every hour at work, stretch, cycle to work and more
  3. Take notice – take a moment to look around. See the weather, look around the office. Plants and photos can brighten a desk.
  4. Learn – learning keeps your brain active. It is good to set goals and work towards them, they can also raise your self-esteem. It can also make you feel like a useful member of the team.
  5. Give – take time to ask the people you work with how they are. Helping others can boost your mental wellbeing and can also improve the workplace as a whole.

Work/life balance

You need to create your own balance. A balanced life can include:

  • Work 
  • Family life
  • Relaxation
  • Leisure time
  • Personal space
  • Social activities
  • Spirituality 

Try to work smart, not hard. Rank your tasks and then focus on each one in turn.

Take proper brakes and try to stick to your hours as far as possible – working long hours can have an increasing, harmful effect on your wellbeing 

Your mental health can benefit from work if you:

  • Feel that you have a sense of control over your work
  • Feel that you are not overloaded with work
  • Feel safe in your workspace
  • Are listened to and you are taken seriously 
  • Feel that you are respected by others and receive feedback about your work

Common causes of stress:

  • Work is too challenging – set realistic goals, look into training, learn to delegate, communicate with your line manager
  • Working long hours – discuss the overtime, keep a record, use time management strategies, learn to delegate, take proper breaks, set unbreakable going home time
  • Work is not challenging enough – look into extra training, communicate with your line manager, ask about shadowing someone for a day
  • Workplace bullying – tell someone, keep a diary of incidents, try to resolve it informally with someone supporting you, communicate with your line manager, get advice from your HR department, go to hse.gov.uk website

Telling your employer about your mental health problems

Stigma about poor mental health still exists within the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010

  •  protects disabled people
  •  makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against workers with physical or mental disability
  •  makes it unlawful for a potential employer to discriminate based on health when deciding on the best candidate for a job

Getting better and support

Thoughts of being unable to cope are common with mental health issues. It is best not to make any big life decisions when you are unwell.

Don’t resign or quit your job, remember to keep sending your fit notes to work on time. When it is time for you to go back to work, think about what would help you to carry out your job when you return. 

It is vital to attend your formal workplace meetings when you can. You can communicate your feelings, treatments and recovery.

Getting support at work

  • Colleagues – talk to people you feel most comfortable with 
  • Line manager – usually the person you should go to first. You can tell them your health issues and how they affect work. They can discuss your work place needs and situations with you
  • Occupational health worker – in some places of work, you can have your health and workplace needs assessed. They can recommend treatment and will write a report for your line manager.
  • Human resources department – they can advise on local and legal steps for supporting staff that have health issues that impact on their work. 
  • Trade union – if you are in a trade union, they can offer support. Your union rep dan give you advice and help you when you are in work, off work or ready to return to work

Out of work support

Your friends and family can provide support as can your GP. You can also access mental health services such as Primary Care Mental Health Teams services.

An occupational therapist can offer specialist support with work issues such as:

  • Assesses what you are able to do at work
  • Identify any barriers to working 
  • Suggest possible reasonable adjustments 
  • Advise you and your employer about your health coniditions 
  • Help you set goals to improve your confidence and readiness for work
  • Help you make a return to work plan

Keeping in touch

When you are off work it is good to stay in touch with your workplace  to reduce the build up of barriers and worries about work making it easier to go back once you are ready.

Informal methods to keep in touch:

  • Text messages
  • Phone calls
  • Emails
  • Meeting for a coffee or walk 

Formal methods to keep in touch:

  • Line manager
  • Human resources
  • Occupational health worker

Dealing with negative thoughts about being off work

‘I cannot be seen out by people who know me through work’ 

  •  you are allowed to go out, you need to spend time out of the house in order to get better and to maintain daily living needs. 
  • When you feel ready, go for a short walk in the area of your workplace – it can help break down barriers that build up when we are off work for a long time. 

‘I feel guilty about being off work’ 

  • getting help and needing a time off is a valid reason to get better and treat your health condition
  • Reassure yourself that you are off for a valid reason and share this concern with someone you can confide in.

‘People might not believe I am really ill’

  • Mental health conditions are as real as physical ones. Keep in mind that 1 in 4 of us will have a mental health problem in our lifetime. People are kinder than we think
  • Try techniques to unwind your mind

‘What do I say to colleagues if they ask about my health or what’s been wrong?’

  • Often people are not sure how to support a colleague returning to work. Thety are often trying to do the right thing but people do not always get it right
  •  Try to think about what you would want to say when asked about this. Rehearse a sentence that includes only what you want people to know. 
  • ‘I’ve been poorly but I’m on the mend now’, ‘I’ve had some tough times to cope with this year but I’m getting there now.’ It’s nice to have a rounding off phrase at the end of your statement. This can close the discussion e.g. ‘Thanks for asking’.

Plan your return to work

You do not have to be 100% better to go back to work. Returning to work can be part of your recovery. It works best when you can plan and time it well. 

To build up your resilience and confidence to work you can:

  • Get back into your work routine – get up in the morning and go to bed at night as you would when you work
  • Wat at work times 
  • Think about tasks you do in a typical day at work 
  • Walk nearby your place of work
  • Get an update as to what is going on at work 

Formal return to work

It helps to plan your return with your manager.

These are some ideas to consider:

  • Try phased return to work 
  • Shadow someone else at first
  • Have and update meeting
  • Have regular meetings with your manager
  • Discuss any need for time off to attend treatment sessions
  • Have a quiet place to go if you feel anxious or stressed 

Ideas about phased returns to work:

  • Go in for 3 hours or more at a time
  • Think about phasing in duties as well as hours
  • Use your unused holiday time to phase your work if necessary  
  • Do not take a holiday too soon after your return = it can feel like going back twice

For a full guide visit: https://d1jw0l0b625fbx.cloudfront.net/docs/Work-and-Mental-Health-December-2016.pdf

Europia Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to get updates and news on Europia

Click to listen highlighted text!