18 Jan 2021

Mental ill health at work

MHA Monahans Mental Ill Health at Work


Almost one-in-three people have suffered with poor mental health while in employment. While mental health awareness is becoming more widely talked about, many believe there is still a long way to go for most employers with regards to raising awareness, taking preventative measures and knowing how to support employees when they do experience mental ill health.

Common mental health illness

The most common mental health disorders observed in the workplace are anxiety and depression, often one having an impact on the other. Stress, while not a medical diagnosis in itself, can also be a contributing factor by exacerbating an existing mental health illness. Although stress is often caused by a mix of both internal and external (personal) factors, it is always in a manager’s interest to support an employee no matter the original trigger for it.

Covid causing cases to rise

When statistics are released, it would be no surprise to learn that cases of mental ill health have risen over the past year. As well as people whose conditions deteriorated during lockdown, NHS services also expect an increase in demand for mental health services as a direct result of the pandemic itself. The report (Aug 2020) flagged isolation, substance use, domestic violence and economic uncertainty as factors that might contribute to the need for extra support.

Extreme changes in the world of work and society mean that individuals are now at even higher risk from a range of organisational and environmental pressures leading to a higher risk of experiencing mental ill-health.

Managing mental health at work

One positive is that the increase in stress and mental health conditions as a cause of sickness absence in UK organisations has helped to increase the focus on mental well-being.

There are a number of measures that employers could put in place to promote good mental health and support people who experience poor mental health, including access to occupational health services, counselling, and phased return-to-work. Training for line managers on how to recognise signs and support their employees is also crucial.

Breaking down the stigma

The biggest barrier for supporting mental health is disclosure due to the stigma associated with these conditions such as anxiety, depression and in particular the more severe mental health conditions such as Bipolar and Schizophrenia.

Employers can make changes to breakdown this stigma, raise awareness and encourage employees to talk to them about their concerns, as well as help them recognise triggers, implement protective measures and manage their stress more effectively to reduce its negative impact.

Create an open and non-judgmental culture

Creating an open culture around mental health is the first fundamental step in raising awareness about mental health issues and fostering an environment where people feel comfortable to disclose their own experience of poor mental health. If individuals don’t disclose their mental health problem at work, they will not receive any organisational support, even if it is available, and this could mean their condition gets even worse and lasts for longer.

Importance of managers

Managers are primarily responsible for managing the welfare of their staff and that includes acting appropriately if one of their team displays signs of mental ill health. Support can include implementing stress management initiatives and encouraging those with problems at work or home to seek appropriate help and support, from friends, family, their GP as well as specialist sources of mental health support.

If employees are confident that their manager will be supportive and non-judgmental during times of poor mental health, they are more likely to be motivated, engaged and productive at work, as well as be more likely to recover from their mental ill-health quicker.


While an individual with a mental health problem will not necessarily experience a significant level of sickness absence, it is important for employers to have in place a good framework to support people’s mental health on a day-to-day basis at work.

The more information and promotion of mental well-being an employer can provide about recognising and managing mental ill health the better. Encouragement of physical exercise and a good diet is also vital when taking steps to both prevent and recover from mental ill health.

Employers who fail to manage mental health at work not only risk damaging their employer reputation, but also potentially be subject to costly litigation claims via unfair dismissal, discrimination claims, or as a result of breach of contract.

Positively managing mental health can reap rewards in terms of morale, productivity & loyalty.

If you would like to have an initial conversation around the above, or anything else HR related, please do contact Juliet Mellues on 01793 818300 or send her an email.