Worried about going back to work after being signed off
May 25, 2012 1:04 AM   Subscribe

Hi everyone. I've got a problem and wondered if anyone could give me some help and advice. I've been signed off work for a week because my old recurring problem of depression has reared its crappy head. It was very sudden. I went to the doctor on Tuesday basically in tears, exhausted and pretty much unable to function. You know; the usual.

I didn't actually intend to get signed off but when she suggested it I decided it was probably the best thing to do. I hate my job, it's horribly stressful and isolating and it's completely making my usual base mood far worse.

Of course, the only problem now is that I'm thoroughly anxious about going back next Wednesday. I didn't tell my employers that I'm prone to depression, it's just not something you say when starting a job, especially when before you felt alright and you had no idea the job would make you bat crazy insane!

My doctor has only written 'under medical supervision' as an explanation for me being signed off which I posted to my employer along with a note apologisng. But now what do I do?

Should I tell them that I got depressed and am now on anti-depressants? Should I white-lie and say I was being treated for exhaustion instead?

Basically, I'm driving myself into a really negative, worried state when I'm supposed to be relaxing and chilling out before having to go back to 'the worst place on earth'. I'm imagining the weird looks I'll now get, the annoyance that everyone will feel towards me because I screwed them over by taking time off work and just the general, anxiety of 'Ah! Work! I have to go back!"

For added information, I work at a Social Work Centre on the switchboard so I spend 40 hours a week being shouted at by heroin addicts and then I get bollocked by staff for screwing up and getting messages wrong because I'm completely exhausted.

I realise I'm being a little dramatic but I'm concerned and need some advice.


posted by Tiltedwindow to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh sorry. I'm in the UK
posted by Tiltedwindow at 1:15 AM on May 25, 2012

In France at least, your employer has no need/right to know any more than that your doctor gave you medical leave. You do not (and should not) tell them specifics. You can simply repeat the wording your doctor used: "I needed medical leave" and add, if you want, "the issue is being treated and I'm feeling better now." Reassuring them that you're actively pursuing treatment would be fine too, I think.

Feel free to ask your doctor how you could handle it as well.

It sounds like you're in a position that's not going to help your depression symptoms – is there a process in the UK whereby you can negotiate being laid off from a position that doesn't fit your skills/abilities and still receive unemployment payments?
posted by fraula at 1:18 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're in a British-English speaking country, so I don't know legally whether you have to tell them anything specific or not. But assuming you don't, can you just say you have a chronic condition that's sometimes exacerbated by stress, and you're now in treatment/on medication for it? If they're nice
they might try to help with some of the stress, and if
they're not nice you get to preserve some privacy.

I tend to panic and go into this "must tell people everything so they get the fullest explanation possible and really understand me" mode, but usually the most basic (true) summary is fine.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:19 AM on May 25, 2012

You don't owe your coworkers an explanation. The note from your doc was enough.

Ignore their weird looks, and take care of yourself.
posted by spunweb at 1:22 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to explain things if you don't want to.

On the other hand, as you are in the UK, your employers can't discriminate against you on the grounds of depression (http://www.dwp.gov.uk/employer/disability-discrimination-act/), even if you didn't tell them when you started. If you aren't already a union member you should join so that you can have independent advice and protection (probably either PCS or Unison depending on exactly where you work).

If you work for a large statutory (government) employer, like a local council, then they will have support they can provide. After they've gone to the expense of employing and training you they will want to help you do your job - it's a good idea to ask for help. Your HR department is the best place to start if you don't feel able to talk to your line manager.

Depending where you live you can get a range of (free) counselling and CBT to help you with your depression and to help you to go back to work. You can get this through a service called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). Some areas require a GP referal and in some you can just call up yourself. If you google IAPT plus the name of where you'll live the service should be in the first couple of links.

You don't need me to tell you that working with people who are distressed is distressing, listening to upset people is upsetting, and that everyone in the public sector is a bit stressed at the moment. But it may help to remind yourself that it's not just you, and that your job would affect lots of people like it does you. Your colleagues probably know this and don't / won't blame you as much as you anticipate.

Good luck
posted by Gilgongo at 2:04 AM on May 25, 2012

Bracketing out your work-specific issues, which I'm sure other MiFites will be able to advise on, you'll perhaps need more help with your depression than just anti-depressants. Is your GP sympathetic and knowledgeable when it comes to 'mental health' issues? I'd suggest going back to her and discussing your treatment options. There might be local mental health facilities to which she can give you a referral. Also, please look at Rethink's website (don't be put off by references to 'severe' mental illness, there's lots of helpful material there).
posted by davemack at 2:09 AM on May 25, 2012

On Monday I'm going back to work after some stress leave. I'm a bundle of angry anxiety. It's uncool to be around. My doctor, my therapist and I have worked out a plan for reduced hours over the next month working up to fulltime by the end of the month. Our long range plan will probably involve handing in my notice in two and a half months time, depending on how the return goes and on my partner working.

If a situation is untenable, it's untenable. If a job has done you serious damage you cannot continue doing it. Simple as that. I understand the 'everyone will hate me' and 'oh god I'm a failure' and 'I can't quit' and all that. But it takes second place to your continued existence as something other than a sobbing wreck.

I was on my way to work when I started sobbing and couldn't stop. My partner turned the car around and drove me home and made me go to the doctor. This is not the first time this has happened - I did it in high school too. I have no desire to extend this fuckery into six or twelve months of crying and self-loathing when I know taking a break from something that makes me crazy will mean I am no longer quite so crazy.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:44 AM on May 25, 2012

Honey, I think the depression is feeding anxiety that isn't actually necessary. Take a deep breath here - none of this is going to change in the next 10 minutes, so it's OK to take a break from worrying.

People get signed off all the time. If your doctor wrote "medical supervision" on your chit, it seems that she's committed to your privacy and either she or you are the only people who can break that privacy.

The reality is that while you may feel like you have a giant red sign over your head saying MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM!, you could have been written off for anything - back pain, diabetes, miscarriage - all of which are none of anyone else's business. You are legally entitled to medical leave, your leave has been signed off by your healthcare provider, that's the end of it.

If you feel like you're going to cave under social pressure to share why you were off work, I strongly suggest you lie and go with back pain.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:54 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're in a British-English speaking country, so I don't know legally whether you have to tell them anything specific or not.

No, you aren't. I did out of courtesy when I was a temp, and got fired for spurious reasons which I'm sure were really 'we don't; want someone with health problems here.'

I was on a probationary period for the first time when I started my new job. I was too worried to mention anything until this was up, because the environment I work in can often be stressful and pressurised. When I did mention it to my manager, I came out of the meeting wondering why I'd taken so long to say anything.

However, your work sounds very stressful for someone dealing with your particular issues. I know 'get a new job' isn't really an answer at the moment, but what's the structure at your workplace like? Can you move to a role which involves less phone use?
posted by mippy at 4:21 AM on May 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice everyone! I feel better after all the info given. I have another 5 days of freedom before Wendesday comes so I'll just wait and see how it plays out. No point stressing now right?

As for moving positions; err no. That isn't really an option. I'm a temp, employed by another company who 'loan me out' to the council basically. The downside is that I don't have a contract. The upside of that is that I can bloody quit soon which is what I intend to do! It'll be up to them if they want me to leave sooner. Than I will and will probably be ultimately more happy. I've saved up just enough to get by for a few months anyway.

Cheers for all the advice guys!
posted by Tiltedwindow at 6:47 AM on May 25, 2012

Just to give you another reassuring anecdote, I was signed off for a month at my job without prior notice (also in the UK - I'd've had the option to tell them earlier once I'd booked into treatment, but chose not to). I kept my explanation deliberately vague, tho some close friend-coworkers knew the real reason. No one batted an eyelid or made me feel bad, honestly. I mean I'm sure they gossipped behind my back, but I didn't feel weird AT ALL coming back (and I'd also been dreading it).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 8:14 AM on May 25, 2012

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