When can a person with mental illness return to work?

Here's how you can determine when your loved one is fit enough to get back to work

Experts offer some simple guidelines that can help you determine when your loved one can go back to work after treatment for a mental illness.

1. Symptomatic response: Does the person still exhibit the symptoms of the illness? Check with your psychiatrist about the status of their symptoms, and whether the psychiatrist would recommend that they return to work.

The nature of the psychiatric illness also plays a role in this factor. For instance, given the right treatment, a person with mild to moderate deperssion will be symptom free earlier than a person who is being treated for OCD.

2. Change in their habits: Are they eating well, sleeping well and interacting with others the way they did before the onset of the illness? Are they expressing a motivation to keep themselves occupied and/or return to work?

3. Managing a daily routine: Are you confident that they will be able to get back to work and stick to a working routine?

Sometimes, caregivers are reluctant to allow their loved ones to return to work due to lack of confidence in their abilities, or fear that the stress may be too much. But, chances have to be taken to help the person return to a certain level of functioning.

There are certain things you can do to help your loved one with their transition:

  • Try to get comfortable with the idea that they will go back to work, and will be able to interact with others and take care of themselves through the day.
  • Do the right groundwork and enlist support service at the workplace. You could choose to support your loved one find employment in a place that understands their concerns and is inclusive. If they are returning to a job that they held before the illness, take the time to speak to the employer, explain what has happened, and how the employer can support them.
  • If your loved one does not have a job they can go back to, their morale may be a bit low. They may reflect on lost opportunities and compare themselves with their peers who seem to be settled comfortably in their jobs. Boost their confidence. Encourage them to find a job that suits their interests and skills.
  • Before they return to the workplace, give them additional responsibilities and opportunities for social interaction so that they have a sense of being valued. You could do this by taking them along to weddings or other social events, involving them in household decisions, shopping, running errands or paying the bills. It is important to do these in gradual steps so that the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed, and takes on what they can handle comfortably.