If depression has forced you to take time off work, the prospect of returning can be a real challenge. Work issues may have directly affected your wellbeing, so the prospect of returning to the same environment can be daunting. You might be worried that you are returning too soon or perhaps you're concerned about the possibility of discrimination.
How soon is too soon?
It’s helpful to know that you don’t need to feel fully well in order to return to work. In fact, work itself may provide you with the final boost you need in order to feel fully well. Unless your work environment is intolerable it’s important to keep things in perspective. It’s true that work stress can cause depression, but work also has great benefits. Work provides us with purpose, security, health and wellbeing. It is also an environment where friendships and even loving relationships can emerge and thrive.
If you are at all uncertain about whether it’s too soon to return to work, share your concerns with your doctor. If there is no clinical reason holding you back, it may be worth considering speaking to your employer. Perhaps you can return to work part-time, or seek flexible hours.
When a change is needed
You may have reached a decision that your former workplace is toxic and you simply cannot go back. That’s fine. You’ve taken a brave decision and you’ve prioritized your health.
It now stands to reason that if your background and skills are, for example, in advertising, or sales, you will look for similar employment. But consider whether this is wise. At this stage, looking for work may feel like a priority, but consider not jumping into something that is a carbon copy of what you’ve left behind. If you loved the work, but not the work environment, a different employer might solve the problem — or you could consider a smaller workplace.
If that’s not for you, an interim step might be wise. If you want a new start but also want some breathing space to think and prepare for work (while being able to afford it, as well), consider volunteering, which can be a useful way of re-establishing work routines. The fact that you are offering help where it’s needed can also give a real boost to self-esteem. At a more practical level, you can add your volunteer work to your CV, which shows that you have remained actively engaged.
Do your research
Your financial situation is a big consideration. It may be that you’ll need to do some soul searching as to whether you can live on less and modify your lifestyle in order to stay well.
Before committing to alternative employment, do your research. This can be undertaken in a very broad fashion by simply thinking about the type of work you’d like to pursue. Will it be indoors or outdoors? Does it need to be local, or can you move? Search the internet and newspapers to see what’s on offer. This can be useful to stimulate fresh ideas — and to eliminate some jobs or professions that might not suit you.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.