Depression: Returning To Work After Being Signed Off

If you’re anything like us, just coming back to work after a long weekend can send our brain into a bit of shock. After you’ve been signed off with depression, it’s easy to build up lots of apprehension about returning to the daily grind, even if you generally love your job. It’s a justified worry because depression sends your mind whizzing all over the place.


The key things to remember here are that you’re allowed to be ill. People take sick days all the time, this is no different – it’s certainly no less serious than the likes of flu or a broken bone. You were hired to do this job, you were good at it and you’re going to continue to be good at it. There are just a couple of steps to take first.

To help you prepare for your return to work, we’re sharing a few things that’ll help you re-enter the workplace smoothly. You can absolutely do this.

Your first day back

What should happen on the day you return to work is that you sit down with your line manager and a HR coordinator. This low-pressure meeting is to chat through:

What’s happened to lead up to being signed off – physically and emotionally
Where you’re at right now
What measures can be put in place to help you manage your workload.

It’s important to be as honest as you can during this meeting. It’s not called to judge you or your struggle (at least, it most certainly shouldn’t be!). It’s an opportunity to voice any concerns you have about coming back to work, and help them understand what you’re going through. If you’re worried about drawing a blank, jot down any points you’d like to mention that have been worrying you.

Some good starting points might be requiring time to attend doctor or counselling appointments, or forewarning that mornings are difficult, so you’d appreciate some lenience with timekeeping.

Monitor your own workload

Good colleagues will do their best to help you when they can, but ultimately no one is able to be 100% clear on what your workload is looking like all of the time. That means it’s down to you to communicate when tasks are piling up.

Try to pinpoint the feeling of overwhelm as early as you can. We know it isn’t always clear – everybody falls into the trap of saying yes to everything and later realising they can’t do it all. But the earlier you can catch yourself, the better.

Don’t be afraid to delegate

If overwhelm threatens to take over, underline which tasks on your to-do list you can pass to someone else. Your first port of call to set that in motion is likely to be your manager, in which case try popping them a simple email to ask who could take this on. It could go something like:

Hi <name>

I’m struggling a little with <task> and wanted to avoid missing its completion deadline. If it’s ok with you I’d like to delegate it – who do you think would be best to chat to about helping me with this?

You don’t have to explain at length unless you’re asked – short and simple normally does the trick.

Check in with HR

Following the catch up meeting on your first day back, your HR Coordinator should schedule a check-in with you (or at least your line manager). Don’t be tempted to skip this, whether you’re still feeling depressed or are fine a few weeks after returning.

In the case of the former, your workplace should look further into how they can support you. If life is good and you’re feeling the latter, it’s always great to give good feedback on their successful procedures. HR will love you for mentioning it!

Choose whether to be honest with your colleagues

You don’t have to tell anyone anything if you don’t want to, however it’s likely that your colleagues will checkin with you, ask where you’ve been or how you’re feeling.

It’s totally fine just to say you’ve been unwell – there’s no pressure to share every detail of your mental illness over the past few weeks. But remember there’s also no pressure not to talk about it.

All workplaces should be open and accepting of anybody suffering with depression, but sadly it’s not always the case. Reflect on your company’s attitude and culture and think about what letting people know means for you. Perhaps just divulge the details with a couple of trusted colleagues. The choice is in your hands – go with your wishes and instincts to make the best decision for you.

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