Almost everyone is likely to have a mental health problem at some point in their lives. For most it tends to be mild and short-lived, for others they may need long term treatment. Our mental health can be negatively affected by things such as bereavement, workplace stress, discrimination, family problems and major negative life events. This is understandable. Sometimes these factors can also aggravate a pre-existing condition such as anxiety, clinical depression or post-traumatic stress.
What is mental health?
Our mental health affects our behavior, feelings, thought patterns and choices. It covers emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. When our mental health is affected by anxiety, stress or depression, it may distort our perceptions and have a negative impact on our interactions, and, at work, this can sometimes lead to difficulty concentrating, taking longer to make decisions, getting easily confused, getting into conflict with colleagues, loosing your temper regularly and being unable to switch off and take a rest.
Under the Equality Act 2010 in Britain a disability is any long-term (12 months+) physical or mental impairment which has a substantial negative effect on your ability to carry out routine daily activities. Some mental health conditions are covered under these terms and therefore employers have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments to help you stay at work and do your job. It is your responsibility to notify your employer about a mental health condition so they can explore ways to make adjustments for you. Sometimes you may need help or support to do this – do not be afraid or ashamed to ask. It is always better for you and for your employer to look after your mental wellbeing.
Identifying mental health problems
It can be difficult for those affected and people around them to pick up when there are problems. This is because most of us have different coping mechanisms. It is when our behavior patterns and thoughts become consistently negative and we are unable to cope with routine daily demands that we need to take note. Warning signs and symptoms include:
- Confused thinking
- Prolonged sadness or irritability
- Extreme highs and lows
- Excessive fears, worries & anxieties
- Social withdrawal
- Eating and sleeping problems
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance misuse
- Persistent aggression
- Noticeable changes in work performance
- Discrimination and mental health
Discrimination is when you are treated less favourably or disadvantaged due to a mental health condition that falls within the Equality Act. Examples may include:
- demotion or lack of promotion
- bullying in the workplace
- frequently being excluded from team work due to your disability
- being dismissed because of sick leave you have taken due to your disability
- having policies that do not take account of the needs of staff with mental health conditions (indirect discrimination)
- facing disciplinary action because your work performance has declined due to lack of reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
If you feel you are being discriminated against because of a mental health issue you can talk to your manager, HR, a union representative, the Equality Team or a senior member of staff. If no action is taken, you can lodge a formal grievance. You can also get guidance from organisations such as ACAS who are qualified to provide legal advice for free and in confidence. Do not be afraid to ask for help from external organisations.
These can vary depending on the type of mental health condition. It generally involves alleviating or removing any disadvantage you might otherwise face due to your disability. The needs of each person is different; there is rarely a standard solution and sometimes different adjustments may need to be deployed to find the most suitable one.
- Relocating you if a very noisy environment affects an anxiety disorder.
- Being flexible about your work times if you are on medication that affects your sleep patterns.
- Temporarily changing some of your tasks to reduce stress levels.
- Providing support through workplace resources within your organisation such as counsellors or HR wellbeing teams.
We live in a society in which mental health problems are highly stigmatised – this includes work environments. It is the duty of all employees to promote an environment of safety and inclusion for those with mental health problems. It is also worth bearing in mind that when employers try to make reasonable adjustments, they may sometimes be limited by their resources and the requirements of your day to day work. So, it may take some time to come to an adequate solution that helps you. It is also important to monitor your mental health regularly so that you can inform your employer of any changes. If you require additional support once adjustments have been put in place, you should request this. It is often difficult to predict how a mental health problem is managed – it varies by individual circumstances.
Above all, if you are an employer, make sure all your line managers receive awareness training and updates about mental health in the workplace. This will reduce costs in the long term and ensure that your workforce are supported properly and professionally when needed.
Stevenson & Farmer (2017) Thriving at Work
Rethink mental illness (www.rethink.org)
LGBT MindOut (www.mindout.org.uk)