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Mental health at work

All too often as employment lawyers, we find that employers only become aware of an employee’s mental health issues when behaviour, quality of work or attendance becomes a problem. At this stage, the additional pressure and stress caused by capability or disciplinary processes can quickly become too much for the employee, and can lead to the employer having to navigate dangerous (and sometimes unchartered) territory. Getting it wrong can be a disaster, and this often results in employers ‘tip-toeing’ around mental health issues, even though they are screaming out to be addressed. Employers and employees can find themselves stuck in a vicious circle that neither of them know how to break. This is frustrating for everyone involved, particularly when, according to research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation, Oxford Economics and Unum, 86% of people believe that their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health.

Today (October 10) is World Mental Health Day – a day that the World Health Organisation dedicates to the issue of mental health, with the hope of encouraging conversation and awareness. The theme this year is mental health at work, which is not surprising given that:

  • Nearly 15% of people experience mental health issues at work – with women much more likely than men to develop a mental health problem.
  • Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide.
  • Mental health and behavioural problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and drug use) are reported to be the primary drivers of disability worldwide, particularly in 20 to 29-year-olds.
  • Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease.
  • It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem.

To coincide with World Mental Health Day, the Mental Health Foundation has produced a number of useful documents and resources (available for free on their website) and is once again encouraging the ‘Tea and Talk’ initiative – whilst this is partly a fundraising drive, the message behind it is clear – building relationships and talking with your colleagues is really important for mental health. Taking the time to sit down and have a cup of tea with someone and asking ‘are you ok?’ can make a huge difference to their mental health and emotional wellbeing, and help you to identify concerns before they become problems. Perhaps you will find the time to sit down with someone today…

If you are currently managing an employee with mental health issues and would like some advice, or you would like some training on the issue delivered in-house to your management team, please get in touch with our employment department. Please also see the Mental Health Foundation website for further information https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/world-mental-health-day or the following guidance note on promoting positive mental health in the workplace, published today by ACAS http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/o/7/Promoting-positive-mental-health-in-the-workplace.pdf

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