When to take sick leave for mental health problems

Con*, HR manager

"I think sometimes managers make assumptions about people needing time off.

Linda, aged 26 , Australia

"Actually my last employer wasn't so supportive. She, I guess, just was ignorant which is not necessarily her fault but she didn't understand. And, like I said, it's not something you can see - it's not the chicken pox or it's not…

Janet*, aged 25, Queensland

"I managed to continue working during a period of severe depression and anxiety. For the most part I was adept at hiding my problems from others but did discuss my illness openly with my manager, who was supportive but didn't pressure me to say more than I was comfortable with.

Deciding whether to remain at work after a diagnosis of depression or anxiety can be a difficult decision. In many cases, remaining at work can play a very important role in recovery by providing daily structure and routine, contributing to a sense of meaning and purpose, facilitating social support and maintaining financial security. The support given by supervisors and the organisation plays a key role in this.

However, as with a physical illness, some employees with a mental health problem may need time off work. In these cases, it is helpful if supervisors make it clear that all employees are entitled to be absent from work when they are not able to work productively. Some employees, especially in tough economic times, may feel guilty or worried about taking sickness absence in the first place, and may need reassurance. It is more efficient and cost effective for your business if your employees recognise when they need to take time away from work and when to return.

When employees do take sick leave, the organisation (through the supervisor or other appropriate staff member) should make sure that they understand their responsibility to keep it informed of the reasons why they are absent from work and, when known, how long the absence is likely to last.