Mental health in the workplace

Mental health in the workplace

Topics covered in this blog

  1. Context
  2. The law around mental health and the workplace
  3. What does this mean for the work itself? 
  4. How to spot the signs 
  5. Tips for employees 
  6. Tips for employers 
  7. Where to go for help


Below are five key statistics that paint the current picture regarding mental health in the workplace in the UK provided by Business in the Community:

  1. Employees are increasingly telling no-one about their mental health issues, a number that is up 3% from last year.
  1. Men are 9% more likely to keep work-related mental health problems to themselves
  • The number of employees who feel that their organisation supports their mental health is on the rise up 8% from last year
  • More employees feel comfortable talking about stress in the workplace than they do about mental health  
  • 41% of employees have experienced mental health symptoms caused, or worsened, by work in 2020

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 only 12.4% of sick days were taken for mental health conditions even though 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England and during the pandemic “Almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020).”

The law around mental health and the workplace

ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) who give employees and employers free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice and offer training and help to resolve disputes state in relation to supporting mental health at work, say:

 “A mental health issue can be considered a disability under the law if all of the following apply:

  • it has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the life of an employee (for example, they regularly cannot focus on a task, or it takes them longer to do)
  • it lasts at least 12 months or is expected to
  • it affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities (for example, interacting with people, following instructions or keeping to set working times) 
  • A mental health issue can be considered a disability even if there are not symptoms all the time, or the symptoms are better at some times than at others.

If an employee has a disability, employers:

  • must not discriminate against them because of their disability
  • must consider making reasonable adjustments 
  • It’s a good idea to work with the employee to make the right adjustments for them, even if the issue is not a disability.

Often, simple changes to the person’s working arrangements or responsibilities could be enough. For example:

  • allowing them more rest breaks
  • working with them each day to help prioritise their workload”

It is important to understand the law surrounding disability in the workplace so that if / when a situation pops up everyone knows how it should be dealt with.

What does this mean for the work itself? 

  • Lower productivity
  • Lack of concentration
  • Paranoia around feedback and workload 

All of these factors lower work quality, productivity and overall morale of an employee leading to a plethora of negative impacts for everyone involved.

How to spot the signs 

Below are signs for the two most common mental disorders in Britain, generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression. It is really important to keep tabs on yourself and how to are feeling both at work and in your personal life.

Psychological symptoms of Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

  • restlessness
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling constantly “on edge”
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • Your symptoms may cause you to withdraw from social contact (seeing your family and friends) to avoid feelings of worry and dread.
  • You may also find going to work difficult and stressful and may take time off sick. These actions can make you worry even more about yourself and increase your lack of self-esteem.

Physical symptoms of GAD

  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • muscle aches and tension
  • trembling or shaking
  • dry mouth
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach ache
  • feeling sick
  • headache
  • pins and needles
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

The NHS also give some examples of symptoms for Clinical depression which include

Psychological symptoms

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • feeling anxious or worried
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

Physical symptoms

  • moving or speaking more slowly than usual
  • changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
  • constipation
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • lack of energy
  • low sex drive
  • changes to your menstrual cycle
  • disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning

Social symptoms 

  • avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
  • neglecting your hobbies and interests
  • having difficulties in your home, work or family life

It is important to note that you do not need to have all of these symptoms to suffer from mental illness 

Tips for employees 

  1. Look after yourself: There are many contributing factors towards mental health, what you eat, whether or not you are active, our genes, life experiences, upbringing and environment all affect our mental health that influences how we think and respond to situations. It is really important and powerful to recognise you need help and to reach out accordingly.
  2. Minimise the stigma: The historical stigma surrounding mental illness is drastically changing and rightfully so. Part of changing your attitude is getting clued up on how mental health can be visible or invisible and how to approach each case sensitively.
  3. Look out for your colleagues: If you are aware of what signs to look out for you can apply these to your colleagues and spot the signs before it escalates and try to support them and their mental health. In a recent documentary by the BBC and radio host & television personality Roman Kemp titled ‘Our silent emergency’ explore how we as individuals can support others and look out for their mental health. One of the tips provided was when asking someone how they are, the response is usually “Good, and you?” or when asking someone if they are okay the same response “Yes and you?” By asking a second time “Are you really okay?” This shows the other person that you really care and are willing to listen to any issues they may have.

Tips for employers 

  1. Minimise the stigma: Think about your company culture and attitude towards mental health. How do you react when an employee reached out for help to tells you they need time off because of mental health issues? How do you welcome an employee back when they are off due to mental illness? 
  2. Get educated: There are many free online resources regarding mental health; what it is, how it can be managed and how it could be spoken about more openly. Managers have a duty of care for their employees to look after and act in the best interest of their workers
  3. Create a mentally healthy workplace: Below is an image of some of the most search terms relating to mental health in the workplace.

This image demonstrates peoples work-related worries when dealing with mental health issues. A further burden to people already dealing with a tough time. It is important to cultivate a culture in which your staff feel safe to disclose any problems that they may have and be open about how you can collaboratively work through issues with them supporting them throughout.,

Where to go for help

Seeking help is so important if you feel like you need it, if you feel like you need any support, please speak up whether that be to a mental health professional, your managers or your friends and family.

In the ‘Our silent emergency’ documentary, seeking the appropriate support is discussed. The below image is from the NHS website on what service you should seek if you or anyone you know were to need it.

If you are affected by the topics covered in this article, the NHS provides useful information on the symptoms of depression and support available. Every Mind Matters also provides helpful advice on looking after your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. Please consult with a mental health professional and do not look to this blog for medical advice as the intersection of mental health and nutrition is still an emerging field of study. 

Another interesting article to check out is: How Email Can Negatively Impact Your Mental Health (and What To Do About It)