Returning to Work After Depression

Returning to work after suffering from depression requires a prior transition process. Preparing yourself for the change, getting back into your routines, and working on your mindset will help you avoid relapse and have an easier time re-integrating into the workplace.
Returning to Work After Depression

Last update: 01 January, 2021

Returning to work post-depression isn’t always easy. Getting back to your routine and schedule can be complicated, as is the risk of relapse. Social stigma can also be a barrier, whether your coworkers actually see you differently or you’re just worried that they will.

There’s a lot of information on depression, stress, and anxiety disorders. What’s sorely lacking, however, is advice and strategies on how to get back to a normal life after being out of commission. This is certainly something that many people face every day, and the process will often determine whether or not you make a complete recovery or end up relapsing.

Someone who’s been out of work for months faces a slew of concerns and anxieties about returning. This can make the transition extremely difficult. Feeling disconnected, having doubts about your competence, the fear of being judged by others, and even anxiety about permanently losing your job can affect the process.

That being said, most of the time, getting back into a routine, having more social interaction, and re-integrating into the workplace help motivate you and make you feel more like yourself again. As long as your transition is appropriate and you have good support, your return to work is likely to be successful. Nevertheless, today, we’ll share some strategies that could facilitate the process.

At some point in their lives, a large portion of the population will suffer from intense enough stress, anxiety, or depression that will keep them from work for a time. Companies need to be prepared to support employees who are making the transition back into the workplace.

A woman looking depressed.

Returning to work after depression: five strategies for a successful transition

Going back to work after depression is a challenge. Remember that depression and everything it entails doesn’t end when your doctor discharges you but when you’re functional again. Getting to that point involves a series of steps that can be complicated.

Prolonged absences from work make it much harder to go back

The first thing to keep in mind is how long someone’s been away from work during their depression. Returning after a year is nothing like going back after a month. Leaves of absence for depression tend to be quite long, usually six months to a year. In general, the longer the leave of absence, the more complicated it’ll be to go back.

Another factor you should keep in mind is that some businesses will opt to lay off the employee. In that case, you’ll have to start a new job, which comes with its own set of issues.

Working on your thoughts, ideas, and attitudes

Long leaves of absence tend to feed certain fears and uncertainties that you might have about going back. The most common are:

  • Fear that you won’t be competent or effective at your job.
  • The fear of being fired because you aren’t as productive as everyone else.
  • Feeling disconnected from your coworkers and workplace.
  • The fear of becoming overwhelmed and burnt out, of being unable to get through the workday.
  • Fear of being judged and watched by coworkers.

You can work on these kinds of ideas with your psychologist. Ideally, your return will be gradual, so you can slowly gain confidence. Also, it’s a good idea to give yourself a transition time to work on fostering positive ideas and attitudes.

A woman with a headache.

Get back to your routine, organize your schedule, and contact your coworkers

Returning to work after depression involves getting back into a routine. Consequently, it can be very useful to work on the following:

  • Before you go back to work, start to practice your routine and schedule at home. Go to bed early and get up at the same time you’ll have to get up when you start working.
  • Organize the tasks you have to do throughout the day. Prioritize what you need to do to prepare yourself for your return.
  • You can also let your coworkers know you’re coming back. Talking to them about your return and how things are going at the office can help you mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come and any changes that took place.

Go back to work gradually; avoid full workdays at first

This isn’t going to be possible for everyone, but if you can make it happen it’s really ideal. Start with a half-day, and gradually work up to a full workday.

Having a support group at work is also extremely helpful. Some companies have professionals who specialize in psychology who can help you with your transition.

A woman sitting at the edge of a lake.

Activities to avoid relapse

It’s important to find activities outside of work that’ll help you avoid relapse. A study conducted by Dr. Stefan Hofmann and Dr. Alice Sawyer at the University of California found, for example, that practicing mindfulness can be very helpful in these cases.

Hobbies, sports, and a good support network are also great sources of motivation that’ll help you avoid depression.

In conclusion, dealing with depression is, in and of itself, a highly complex psychological process. When you add trying to make the transaction back to work after a long leave of absence to the mix, things can get even more complicated. But don’t despair. With these strategies and some help from those around you, you can make it back successfully.

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  • Tennant, C. (2001). Work-related stress and depressive disorders. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-3999(01)00255-0
  • Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology78(2), 169–183. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018555