Benefits of work
Working while you have a mental health condition provides a number of benefits, and can play an important role in your recovery. Work can:
- improve your quality of life and wellbeing
- give structure and routine to your day-to-day life
- contribute to your sense of meaning and purpose
- promote opportunities for social inclusion and support
- provide financial security.
Barriers to working with a mental health condition
Depending on your circumstances, certain factors can make it difficult for you to stay at work, or return to work after an absence. These may include:
- reduced self-confidence due to your mental health condition
- being worried that workmates may find out about your condition without your permission
- stigma associated with mental health conditions, and fear of possible discrimination
- uncertainty about the type of assistance available to you
- concerns that workplace stressors have not been addressed.
If you have had some time off, there may also be a loss of connection with work and colleagues. For these reasons, it's important to consult with your managers or HR team to make the process as smooth and simple as possible.
How to manage staying at or returning to work
Staying at work
If you're able to keep working, it can help to:
- set up regular meetings with your manager to define realistic goals and provide regular updates to them on how you are going;
- meet regularly with a trusted support person to discuss how you're doing;
- ask for adjustments to your role where necessary, such as flexible hours if you need time off for appointments;
- make sure you communicate your needs clearly, don't assume others will know what support you do and don't need;
- work with your manager to develop a plan, so it is clear what is expected of you and what supports are in place to assist you. The Return to work/Stay at work discussion plan may also be helpful for you and your manager for conversations around developing your plan.
Planning your return to work
If you're having some time away from the workplace and planning to return, things you can do to plan your return include:
- having a regular catch up with your manager to keep you connected with the workplace
- letting your manager know if you want to receive visits, calls or emails from workmates
- allowing your manager to be in touch with your GP for regular updates.
In this three-part acted scenario we meet Lena, who has taken some time off work to support her recovery. As she prepares to return to the office, she and her manager, Marika, meet to discuss adjustments to her role and any additional support she might need. Together they develop a plan that clarifies all changes to Lena's role, including time frames and next steps.
Making reasonable adjustments
Reasonable adjustments are changes to a work role that help someone with a mental health condition to keep working, or return to the workplace if they've taken time off.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, employers must make reasonable adjustments to support people with a disability (including a mental health condition) provided the person is able to fulfil the core requirements of the job.
Adjustments can be temporary or permanent, and are usually free or inexpensive. It's important to discuss with your manager how your symptoms can affect your work and what adjustments may be helpful to minimise their impact.
Any adjustments must be agreed on with your manager and reflect your current needs.
All adjustments should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are meeting your needs and changed accordingly.
Under anti-discrimination law, employers must make changes ('reasonable adjustments'), provided you can still fulfill the core or inherent requirements of the role.
If you think you've been treated unfairly at work because of a mental health condition or you would like more information on your rights, speak to the Australian Human Rights Commission on
1300 656 419.