What to consider when you return to work after a mental illness

Identifying your next job may feel overwhelming if you're just recovering from a mental illness. Here are the factors to consider before you make your decision
What to consider when you return to work after a mental illness

The reasonable accomodation at workplaces for persons with mental illness is far from ideal in India, and not many of us have the luxury of designing our work schedules to suit us. But for those of us who can ask for and make adjustments, here’s what you could consider before you begin the process of applying and interviewing for a job:

  • Identify what style of working you would prefer: would you prefer a small organization or team? Or would you prefer the anonymity of a larger organization? Would you prefer to work in a creative role? Or would you prefer something that has some predictability and routine tasks? Talk to a mentor or a trusted friend if you need support choosing.

  • Is it possible for you to take up a job that allows you flexible timings, and the ability to take time off when you really need to? One such example would be to take up a writing job with a work-from-home/flexi-time option. Or to freelance and take up one assignment at a time.

  • Pick a job that has only as much stress as you can cope with. If you think you won’t be able to work in a role that needs you to be on call 24/7, you may need to look for simpler options to keep your work-life balance.

  • Actively look out for openings in organizations that are known to be inclusive. This could mean looking for a job in a startup with flexible options, or in the social sector. It may be easier for you to work in a place where diversity already exists, because chances are that the management and employees have some awareness about people with special needs.

  • If there is an opportunity for honesty, communicate clearly but with caution, sharing only as much information as you’re comfortable sharing. Instead of giving them all the details of your diagnosis, you could tell them that you’re going through a rough patch and may need some specific support for a few weeks/months. This will help them be prepared to support you.

  • Help your manager or colleagues understand what your illness means in the context of your work. What challenges or limitations do you face? What specific support do you need from your team? This information gives your manager and colleagues a concrete idea rather than leave them with a vague sense of what your illness means.

  • Look for roles that offer you some flexibility, and consider whether stepping down or stepping sideways will help you cope better.

  • Remember to care for your physical and mental health. Incorporate some exercise into your daily routine, and do tasks that help you de-stress.

  • Most importantly, make sure you attend your therapy sessions. They will help you cope with the stress of going back to work after a break, and any issues you may be facing due to this. Plan your work schedule around your therapy sessions, if that’s possible. If not, speak to your therapist and see how you can continue consulting them regularly while maintaining your work schedule.

When you are gearing up for a job interview, remember:

  • The interview isn’t just about the company getting to know you. It’s also an opportunity for you to get to know the company. What are you looking for? Make sure you ask the questions that will help you decide if the job is for you.

  • Share your challenges with caution and openness. Talk about your past contributions and give your interviewer an idea of how you can contribute now. 

  • Seek the support of your family and friends. Identify if there is someone in your family whose help you can seek when you feel stuck or discouraged.

  • Don't jump at the first opportunity; rather, wait for the right opportunity. Remember to make a thorough evaluation of the offer before you accept. 

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