Back to work when you have been ill

If you have had time off with mental illness, it can be hard to think about going back to work. This is especially true if you have been on benefits and are unsure if any job you get will be financially worth it. 

The good news is that you can do up to 16 hours a week 'Permitted Work' [sometimes called 'Therapeutic Work] for a period and get paid for it - and also continue on benefits. You can see more informationk on the DWP website here.

In the article below, Paul Warwick speaks to a friend of his called Kelly about her plans to return to work.
 


 

Kelly's Story

Kelly Saunders believes that having a job and working is therapeutic and helps her cope with her symptoms of mental illness.  25 year old Kelly became ill about three years ago and Kelly explained, “Basically I had these symptoms of being withdrawn and not wanting to socialize, whereas the real me wants to socialize, but I was withdrawn and don’t remember this but apparently I kept talking to myself.  I got diagnosed with Acute Psychotic Disorder and my mum said I had to go to the hospital and my dad drove me there.  I was in hospital for four months.”

When Kelly was discharged from Princess Royal hospital in Kent, she continued taking antipsychotic medication, which has made her well enough to regularly be employed, despite having some negative side effects from medication, like bouts of fatigue, though Kelly is pleased that the illness and side effects don’t seem to hinder her motivation and Kelly has always felt the need to want to work.

Kelly said that before she first started working, “I got A-levels and GCSE’s, but the only A-Star I got was in hospitality and catering and I ended up working in bars and restaurants.  I worked in one restaurant for over a year, and that was a good experience, I really enjoyed it, everyone liked me.”

Kelly then joined an agency and has had a lot of short jobs through them, again in catering, working serving food and drink or cooking in the kitchen.  More recently during a brief period of unemployment, Kelly also trained to do spray tanning and tried to set up her own business doing this.  She gave out business cards to her family and friends, but didn’t get any clients.

Kelly said that apart from when the country first went into lockdown, she’d never been unemployed for long and said about how her work helps her.  “It does help me.  I can’t explain it.  When I have my work I put my whole energy into it.  It gives me a focus, a purpose, and that’s why when I’m at work I have to give it my hundred percent and I don’t mess about.  If they tell me to do something, I do it.  If they ask me to be there at 7pm, I’m there half an hour early or even an hour early.  That’s how I am.  I can’t explain it.”

Kelly added, “I have had jobs I don’t enjoy, but most of the time I’d rather work than not work.  It gives me that focus.”

Kelly said that she became a Christian about two years ago, and about Christ Church Anerley, “I was just walking past the church doing exercise, power walking, and I saw the church sign for the coffee shop, and because I love food and drink I thought let me just go in and see what it’s like.”

Since then Kelly also began to attend the church on Sundays and also attends the award winning Freedom Forum bible study and social group on Thursday afternoons.  The group is mainly attended by ex prisoners and people with mental illness, and Kelly’s made a lot of friends there.  And since she’s been a Christian, Kelly’s sometimes prayed and asked God to help her find work.

Kelly added about becoming a Christian that she said a prayer on her own and asked Jesus into her heart.  This was after she’d been coming to church for a little while, and she’s been coming to church regular since she first walked into the church coffee shop.  Kelly said about being a Christian, “It’s changed my outlook on life.  I’m even eating healthier as well.  And I see things more positively.”

One of the things Kelly enjoys about church is socializing and meeting other people.  She feels its unhealthy to just stay at home looking at screens.  And she thinks it’s a good thing to be out and meeting with people.  And she feels that this helps her faith grow stronger. 

Shortly before the first lockdown happened, Kelly got a new job working as bar staff serving drinks in a Beckenham nightclub, but since then she’s been furloughed as the club has remained closed.

When discussing Kelly’s plans for the future, she said, “ I just want to further my career in restaurants and stuff like that.”  She added, “I’d like to work for somewhere like the Hilton Hotel in Croydon or somewhere like that.  I’d like to be a junior chef.”

Kelly also added that one day she’d maybe like to be a head chef, but she knows it would take a lot of work and experience and she’d have to build up to that level.

I asked Kelly if she had any idols and people she looks up to and feels inspired by, and she replied, “I love Jamie Oliver.  I like Gordon Ramsey as well, although he shouts a lot, but his food is really really good, but I love Jamie because he’s got a down to earth approach and as you’re watching him on TV and making his food, you feel like, Oh I can do that.”
 

Authors note

If you have a mental illness or disability, coping with a full time job may be difficult at this stage.  However, working part time may be possible for you.  And if you’re on the benefits ESA, Disability Living Allowance, or PIP, because you have a mental illness or disability, you are entitled to do ‘Permitted Work’.  This means you can work for up to 16 hours a week and earn up to £140 a week after tax, without it affecting your benefits.  And the government try to provide help and incentive in this way, as its recognised that doing some work can help balance and enhance a person’s mental and physical health.  If you do permitted work you need to fill out a form and tell the job centre if you’re starting work.

If you live in London, there is an organisation called Status Employment, who help people with mental illness find paid work, training, or voluntary work.  Status Employment have offices in Croydon and Lambeth, but are closed at the moment due to Covid restrictions.

The mental health charities Mind and Rethink, can also advise you about work.
 

Paul Warwick, 29/03/2021
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