An employee's guide to mental health in the workplace

According to the World Health Organisation, good mental health is “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

Good mental health is something that, in an ideal world, every individual should enjoy. The reality is that our mental health will fluctuate. At times we will have good mental health and at others our mental health suffers depending on what is going on in our lives. On the occasions our mental health is not so good, we need support from our network, including our employer and colleagues. 

Telling your employer

Making the decision to tell your employer is a difficult one. Just talking openly can really help. Statistics show that 49% of employees feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about their mental health. Reasons for this can include fear of discrimination or appearing weak.

When faced with the decision whether or not to tell your employer, consider the following:

  • You are not alone. 1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue each year, with up to 20% of adults suffering from a mental health issue at any given time
  • You have the choice to tell your employer or not. If you decide to say something, you can tell them as little or as much as you feel comfortable with
  • Your employer cannot help and support you if they do not know about and understand your situation
  • Your employer has obligations to ensure your health, safety and welfare in the workplace
  • You have rights. A mental health issue could be a ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010 and you have a right to ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace and not to be discriminated against
  • Your employer’s obligations, along with your rights, mean that your employer has to take steps to help and support you if you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health (whether the cause is home or work or a combination of both). These steps can be temporary or permanent and can include varying your role, changing your working hours or place of work or allowing you time off for appointments
  • Talking to your manager or HR department in private and one-to-one or with a trusted colleague to support you, could make talking about sensitive issues easier
  • Plan what you want to say about your mental health condition, how it impacts your work and most importantly what they might be able to do to help you manage and improve your mental health
  • The right help and support can improve your mental health and reduce the risk of you taking absences from work, which could impact your income. By talking to your employer, and working with them to agree the changes that will help you best, you stand the best chance of resolving the situation sooner or at least without it worsening further

Recognising a change in our own mental health and having the confidence to ask for support are important parts of protecting and improving our mental health.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.