Work and mental illness
Many people find work is important for their mental health and that work helps them feel good about themselves. You may have stopped working because of mental illness and now feel ready to go back. This page explains your options for finding work. This page is for people with mental illness who are looking for work and their carers.
- You could try different types of work, like voluntary, supported, part-time or full-time work.
- Work can affect your benefits. This depends on whether you get paid and the number of hours you work.
- Various organisations offer help and support with finding work.
- If you tell an employer that you have a disability it is illegal for them to treat you badly because of this.
- You can think about asking an employer to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you.
Types of work
What types of work could I try?
There are several options you can try such as:
- part-time work,
- full-time work,
- apprenticeships, and
- employment projects.
We look at these options in more detail below.
Voluntary work is a good starting point for getting into work.
The following are things to consider about voluntary work:
- You don’t get paid but you might get paid expenses.
- It can allow you to try out different roles and get a feel for what you are interested in.
- It can improve your chances of getting a paid job.
- It can be a good option if you have been out of work for a long time, or if you have a severe mental illness.
You can search for voluntary work by using the websites in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
If you work part-time:
- you work but don’t work full-time, so you might work for say 10, 16 or 20 hours a week,
- you can ease yourself into work more slowly than you could in a full-time job,
- you will usually have to pay for lunch and travel out of the money you earn, and
- you can have the time to do other things during the day, such as:
- going to therapy appointments,
- doing some extra training, or
- looking after your children.
Full-time work usually means working at least 35 hours a week.
If you want to work full-time after a period of illness think about the following things.
- What made you unwell.
- Ways of reducing stress if that was a problem before.
- If you need a change of job or role.
- Any reasonable adjustments you want to ask your employer about – see the section further down this page for more information.
- How work affects other areas of your life. This might be looking after your children or having time to do things you enjoy. This is known as ‘work – life balance’.
If you are self-employed:
- you work for yourself,
- you might have your own business,
- you don’t work for an employer who pays you a salary,
- you can decide how, where and when you do your work,
- you have to arrange paying your own tax,
- Sick pay rules are different to if you work for an employer, and
- your income might not be guaranteed in the same way as working for an employer.
You can set up a business in several ways, including as a:
- sole trader,
- partnership, or
You will have to think about how you will register, run the business and deal with any debts.
There are organisations that can give you information about self employment like:
- Business Support - provides free advice about setting up and running a business, and
- Business Debtline - gives advice about dealing with business debts.
You can find contact details for these organisations in the ‘Useful Contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
You can also find out more information about being self-employed by clicking here: www.gov.uk/working-for-yourself.
You might know the type of job that you want to do. But you might not yet have the experience, skills or qualifications to do the job.
An apprenticeship may be a good option for you.
An apprenticeship will give you the opportunity to:
- learn on the job,
- get qualifications, and
- earn a small wage.
You can get an apprenticeship in a wide range of roles, including agriculture, horticulture, health, public services and leisure.
You can contact the National Apprenticeship Service for more information. Their details are in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
You might have difficulties because of your mental health condition. If you do you might be able to get help from the Remploy – Supporting apprentices scheme.
Their details are in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
You can find out more information about apprenticeships by clicking here:
You can find apprenticeships by clicking here: www.gov.uk/apply-apprenticeship
There are employment projects in some parts of the country. Some of these projects offer jobs to people with disabilities.
You may get ongoing support from a caseworker.
To find out if any employment projects are available in your area you can contact:
- your care co-ordinator, if you have one,
- a Disability Employment Adviser at your local Job Centre Plus, and
- the organisations Remploy, The Shaw Trust, Steps to Employment and The Richmond Fellowship - their details are in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
Work and benefits
Will working affect my welfare benefits?
Whether working affects your welfare benefits can depend on:
- what benefits you are claiming,
- whether you are volunteering or doing paid work,
- how many hours a week you are working, and
- how much you are earning.
You should think carefully about whether you would be better off going back to work or staying on benefits. You can ask a benefits advice organisation to do a 'better off calculation' for you. But you might decide to work, even if you’re less better off as there are other benefits. Such as it having a positive effect on your mental health.
You can get advice about how work will affect your benefits.
You can get advice from your local Citizens Advice office. You can find their contact details in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
You can also search for local benefits advisers by using the following websites:
Turn 2 Us: www.advicefinder.turn2us.org.uk
Advice UK: www.adviceuk.org.uk/looking-for-advice/find-advice/
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
You can do some work and still get ESA. This is known as permitted work. Permitted work usually means you:
- work less than 16 hours, and
- earn less than £140 a week.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
PIP is not means tested. This means that it is not affected by your income, capital or savings. So, any money you earn by working will not affect the amount you get under PIP.
If you work, you can still get PIP as long as you meet the PIP criteria.
You can find more information about ‘Employment and support allowance’ and ‘Personal Independence Payment’ at: www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/living-with-mental-illness/money-benefits-and-mental-health/
Support finding work
What support is available to help me find work?
There are lots of schemes, programmes, organisations and training providers that can help you into work such as:
- local charities,
- national charities such as Shaw Trust, Remploy, Steps to Employment and the Richmond Fellowship,
- Bipolar UK Employment service,
- local authority schemes,
- help from social services,
- Jobcentre Plus schemes and Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) at the Jobcentre,
- careers advisers, and
- support from friends and family.
You may have to be claiming benefits to use some of these services.
Details of some national charities and careers advice help can be found in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
Different services offer different sorts of help. This may include:
- help with developing skills, abilities and experience,
- identifying suitable job opportunities,
- help with writing a CV,
- help with interview techniques,
- providing information about local job opportunities, and
- supporting you in work.
Not all of these options will be available where you live.
Jobcentre Plus, part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), offers national schemes to help people access work.
- Access to Work
- The Work and Health Programme
- Intensive Personalised Employment Support
There is more detailed information about these schemes below.
Access to Work
Access to Work can help if you are:
- in a paid job,
- about to start a job or work trial, or
- are self-employed and have health or disability needs that affect your ability to do your job.
You and your employer can get advice and support about costs related to your illness. This could include help with putting 'reasonable adjustments' in place for you. Please see further down this page for more information on ‘reasonable adjustments’.
What help you’ll get depends on your needs. It can include things like:
- a support worker or job coach to help you in your workplace
- help with travel to and from work
- disability awareness training for your colleagues
You can also get support and advice from a trained healthcare professional from the Mental Health Support Service. You don’t need to have a diagnosed mental health condition to use the service.
You don’t have to get Access to Work to get support from the Mental Health Support Service, but you must be eligible.
You can find out more about Access to Work online at www.gov.uk/access-to-work/overview. You can apply online, by phone or other accessible ways.
You can contact the scheme directly:
Access to work
This is funding provided to pay for practical support if you have an illness.
Telephone: 0800 121 7479
Textphone: 0800 121 7579
Work and Health Programme
The Work and Health Programme helps you find and keep a job if you’re out of work.
It’s voluntary, unless you’ve been out of work and claiming unemployment benefits for 24 months.
The Work and Health Programme replaced schemes called the Work Programme and Work Choice. You can no longer join these old schemes. But if you are already on them you can stay on them.
You could be eligible if you live in England or Wales and you’re:
- disabled – as defined by the Equality Act 2010. Please see further down this page for more about this.
- out of work and have claimed unemployment benefits for 24 months
- a carer or former carer
- a former member of the armed forces or an armed forces reservist
- the partner of a current or former member of the armed forces
- a care leaver
- a young person in a gang
- a refugee
- a victim of domestic violence
- dependent (or have been dependent) on drugs or alcohol and it’s preventing you from getting work
- an ex-offender and you’ve completed a custodial or community sentence
- an offender serving a community sentence
You don’t have to be getting benefits to apply.
What you’ll get
You’ll get personal support to help you:
- identify your employment needs
- match your skills to work that’s available
- put you in touch with employers
- find long-term employment
- get training to help you find work
- manage health problems to reduce their impact on work
How to apply
Ask your work coach if you’re eligible.
If you don’t have a work coach, you can go to your local Jobcentre Plus and ask to speak to a work coach.
Intensive Personalised Employment Support
Intensive Personalised Employment Support is one-to-one support and training to help you into work if you have a disability or health condition.
To apply you must:
- have a disability or health condition that affects the work you can do
- be unemployed
- be between school leaving age and state pension age
- be a UK resident living in England or Wales
What will I get?
You’ll get a dedicated support worker to help you:
- identify what work you’re able to do
- match your skills to work that’s available
- get training to help you find work
- build a personal support network
- manage work around your specific disability or health condition
- support you during your first 6 months of work
You’ll usually get Intensive Personalised Employment Support for 15 months. You can get an additional 6 months of on-the-job support if you find employment.
How do I apply?
Ask your work coach if you’re eligible.
If you don’t have a work coach, go to your local Jobcentre Plus and ask to speak to a work coach about Intensive Personalised Employment Support. You can find your local Jobcentre Plus by searching here: www.find-yournearest-jobcentre.dwp.gov.uk/search.php
Should I tell an employer about my mental illness?
It is usually up to you to decide whether to tell an employer about your mental illness.
Before you are offered a job
The Equality Act says that an employer can’t ask you questions about your health before they offer you a job. This is to stop discrimination because of your health.
An employer can ask you questions if they need to find out:
- if you need any reasonable adjustments for the interview,
- if you will be able to do something that is part of the job,
- personal information to track who is applying for jobs with them - this helps with their equality and diversity policies,
- if you could be part of an employer’s scheme that favours disabled people, or
- if you have a disability that you need for the job. For example, an employer with a project for deaf people may want a deaf person to run it.
You don’t have to answer health questions before you are offered a job. Unless you have a specific type of job where you have to tell the employer.
You could try to find out why the employer is asking these questions. This may help you decide whether or not to answer them.
Once an employer offers you a job, they can ask you health-related questions.
You may be given a ‘conditional’ offer of a job. This means that getting the job depends on certain things. An employer might say your job offer is conditional on satisfactory references and health or disability checks.
An employer can then ask questions about your health. If at this stage your job offer is withdrawn, you may be able to make a claim of disability discrimination – see ‘Unfair treatment’ below.
It may be helpful to tell an employer about your mental illness so they can make ‘reasonable adjustments’. This might help you during the interview and recruitment process or if you get the job.
Your employment doesn’t have to make reasonable adjustments unless they know, or should know, about your illness.
Please see below for more information on reasonable adjustments.
Some employers guarantee an interview to disabled people who meet the minimum criteria for the role.
The employer might be part of the Disability Confident scheme. These employers encourage applications from disabled people.
Telling your employer
If you tell your employer think about the strengths and skills you use to cope with and overcome your mental illness.
Your experience of mental illness may have given you useful skills, such as:
- problem solving,
- the ability to work with and relate to different sorts of people,
- setting goals, and
If you choose to tell an employer during the application process, you can tell them:
- on the application form,
- on a covering letter, or
- at the interview stage.
Gaps in your CV
When you fill in an application form or write a CV you usually have to include an employment history.
You might have gaps in your employment history. These gaps might be periods where you couldn’t work because of your mental illness.
The following are things to think about when telling an employer.
- It is best to be honest. If you aren’t and the employer finds out later it could lead to problems for you. Honesty is a good quality that employers value.
- You don’t have to go into everything in detail.
- You might have been employed for a long time and held different positions. You can put your more recent positions only on your CV. This might cover up any gaps from years ago.
- You can sometimes tell the employer the years but not the months that you were employed. This might mean you don’t have to explain a gap.
- Employers will generally be used to job applicants having gaps in their employment. It is how you deal with it that could make the difference.
- Think about the positives from your break in employment. Instead of just saying you were too ill to work you could say things like:
- “To get myself well enough to start working again I ………..”
- “I used the following skills and strengths to overcome the challenges I faced ……….”
- “I learn the following things…….”
If you are offered an interview you will probably be asked about gaps in your employment.
You can plan what you are going to say. It is your chance to impress the employer with:
- how you dealt with the situation,
- what skills you used, and
- what you learnt.
Jobs where you must tell the employer
In some jobs you must tell the employer about your health. This is because of regulations that apply to these professions. These jobs include:
- nurses and doctors, and
- the armed forces.
If you don’t tell the employer, you could face disciplinary action later on.
Telling an employer that you have a mental illness could lead to unfair treatment when applying for a job.
You may be protected by discrimination law. But it may be hard to prove that the employer treated you badly because of your mental illness. Rather than a fair reason such as lack of experience.
If you think you have been discriminated against because of your mental illness you can get advice from The Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS). Their details are in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
What are ‘reasonable adjustments’?
Under the Equality Act 2010 employers must take certain actions to help people with disabilities. This includes many people with a mental illness.
Under the Act employers have a duty to change their procedures and practices. They must do this to remove the barriers people face because of a disability.
Disabled people can ask employers to change their procedures and practices, as long as it is reasonable. The Act calls this the duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments.’
The Equality Act defines a disability as being:
- a physical or mental impairment,
- long term – has lasted at least 12 months or likely to last 12 months, and
- has a substantial adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
You can ask for reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process. So, you might ask for a reasonable adjustment to make it easier for you to go to an interview. You can also ask them if you get the job.
Reasonable adjustments for employees with a mental health condition include:
- offering flexible working patterns, including changes to start and finish times and adaptable break times,
- changing your working environment, for example providing a quiet place to work,
- working with you to create an action plan to help you manage your condition, and
- allowing you leave to attend appointments connected to your mental health.
You can find more information ‘Discrimination and mental health’ by clicking here.
Advice – Benefits and employment
Offers free, confidential impartial and independent advice. They have expertise in dealing with benefits and work issues. You can find your local office on their website:
Telephone: 03444 111 444
The Disability Law Service
Provides information on all matters surrounding disability which includes work and discrimination. They may help you challenge decisions which discriminate against you as a disabled person.
Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS)
An organisation that gives practical advice and information about the Equality Act 2010 and discrimination.
Telephone: 0808 800 0082 (Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm)
Address: FREEPOST EASS Helpline FPN6521
Email: via website
National Apprenticeship Service
Responsible for apprenticeships in England. There is comprehensive information about apprenticeships in England on their website.
Telephone: 0800 015 0400 (8am to 10pm, 7 days a week)
Remploy – Supporting apprentices
This free service supports apprentices who are feeling low or upset or struggling to keep up with their apprenticeship.
Telephone: 0300 456 8114
National Careers Service
Provides information, advice and guidance to help you make decisions on learning, training and work opportunities.
Telephone: 0800 100 900 (8am - 10pm daily)
Email: via website
One of the UK's leading providers of employment services to people with barriers to work.
A national charity which supports disabled and disadvantaged people to prepare for work, find jobs and live more independently.
Offers a wide range of housing, care, employment and community support services for people with mental health problems throughout the country.
Telephone: 020 7697 3300
Address: Richmond Fellowship 80 Holloway Road London N7 8JG
Bipolar UK – Employment Support Service
Support, advice and resources if you have bipolar and you are finding it hard either to get work, or to do your work when you're there. There are charges for some of their services. Includes a booklet “An employee’s guide to bipolar and employment”, which you can download for free.
Business Support Helpline
This government service provides free business advice and support online and through local advisers.
A charity that provides free debt advice to small businesses over the telephone. They also have a website with useful factsheets and sample letters.
Telephone: 0800 197 6026 (Mon-Fri 9am – 5.30pm)
Email: via website
Includes a volunteering position search facility.
Telephone: 020 3780 5870
Email: via website
An independent charity and membership organisation, committed to supporting, enabling and celebrating volunteering in all its diversity. They have an England wide network of volunteer centres. You can find a centre close to you on their website.
Telephone: 020 7713 6161
Address: Society Building, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL
A national database of volunteering opportunities in the UK.
Advice about a workplace problem
You can call the ACAS helpline if you have a workplace problem you want to get advice on. They can help talk through your options.
Phone: 0300 123 1100.