The Mighty Logo

Returning to Work After a Long Mental Health-Related Absence

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Returning to work after a long absence due to your mental illness is a challenge. It is hard to navigate where you stand with people after having a “mental breakdown” in the form of accusing your boss of trying to kill you. There is tension about the future of my relationship with my colleagues and upper management, but especially my boss.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I took six weeks off to try out this new medication after screaming that my boss was trying to kill me for four days in a row. Mania at its worst can cause paranoid delusions and I experienced an auditory hallucination of a woman screaming which is due to my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I warned my boss in advance that I had these medical conditions, but he has little understanding until I thought he was trying to harm me.

Here are some suggestions I have for you when you return from work after a long absence due to mental illness.

1. Be patient with yourself: You are learning about your disorder as it continuously changes. You may even be relearning aspects of your job. Be patient that you might have to redo work and plan accordingly that you might not be in the top shape that you’ve previously been.

2. Be patient with other people: Some don’t understand, but how will they ever understand unless you explain to them what is affecting you? I don’t mean go into drastic details, but explain that it was medically needed or for personal reasons. People are going to ask and might even tiptoe around the subject. You’ll have to be comfortable with questions on why you needed a break.

3. Don’t be ashamed: Everyone needs a break. Medicine can even slow you down and you might have previously been a top employee. Learn to take it easy and not be ashamed for taking extra-long breaks or get accommodations to better manage your mental illness.

4. Be honest: Now this one is tricky because you don’t always want to be honest about your mental illness. However, in my experience this has enabled people to better understand how to handle me or that I might not be as capable as some days. I am diagnosed with bipolar, which means my good days are extremely good, and my bad days are extremely bad. Be honest that it may just be a bad day. We are allowed those even with treatment.

5. Things get better: Just as this has been a hard period of time for you, remember you did not take a vacation but took a break in order to mentally settle yourself. Use the opportunity to explain to everyone that it was not so much time off, but an absence to better manage yourself which takes time.

These are merely things I have observed since my return to work a week ago. I’ll update again when I have more to say.

Getty image via GaudiLab

Originally published: December 16, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home