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Returning to work after a mental health issue: IOSH report explores employers’ role

January 27, 2021

Tilburg, Netherlands — Employers who take a more tailored approach to supporting workers who return to work after a mental health-related absence “could not only prevent mental health problems from becoming more severe but also help employees achieve a more sustainable return,” according to a new research report from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.

Commissioned by IOSH, researchers from Tilburg University interviewed 34 workers on leave with common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and stress-related complaints. The researchers also assessed input from a focus group comprising mental health professionals, occupational health professionals, general practitioners and managers.

Some of the employees were able to return to work more quickly than others, accentuating the need for individualized approaches to reacclimatizing workers to the occupational environment.

The researchers recommend employers help confront the stigma often associated with mental disorders by:

  • Communicating more frequently with workers on sick leave with mental health concerns
  • Joining with co-workers and stakeholders to offer support to affected employees

Key tenets to a successful return to work include:

  • Gaining self-awareness and learning to set limits
  • Having a supportive and understanding manager
  • Regaining control by engaging in recovery-enhancing behavior

“This study will promote awareness of individual differences in the return to work process,” lead study author Maitta Spronken said in a press release.