How to deal with poor mental health at work

Poor mental health can affect anyone. Opening up the conversation on mental health could help ease your mind and help to end the stigma 
by Bethan Rees


Time to Talk Day (7 February) is an annual awareness day organised by Time To Change, a mental health campaign, which encourages people to talk about mental health. 

In a survey of 44,000 employees, mental health charity Mind finds that almost half (48%) of respondents have experienced a mental health problem in their current job. Having a bad mental health day can happen to anyone. Here’s some coping tips. Telling your employerIn an article for SELF magazine, a health and wellness publication, Katharine Glick, a counsellor, advises to think about why you are telling your boss about your mental health. “Have a goal in mind. If it’s making you late, causing productivity problems, affecting how you’re interacting with co-workers or causing any sort of issue within your working environment, you should talk to your boss.” If not, “it might not be worth bringing up,” she says. 

Time to Change says disclosing mental health issues at work is a personal choice, “but if you need more support, being open can help you get it”.

If you do decide to tell your boss or manager, the first step should be requesting a one-to-one meeting or time to catch up with them. An article by Becky Wright for, a website providing information on mental health, recommends finding a place where you will be able to talk in a calm and collected way. “If there isn’t a quiet space within your workplace, suggest going somewhere else or even for a walk. Walking can take the corporate feeling out of the meeting and being outside might bring a new perspective to how you’re feeling.”

Wright also advises going to this meeting armed with a plan. To prepare, consider researching your firm’s HR policies on mental health (if they exist) and what support or change you need from your boss. “Maybe you need a little flexibility with deadlines, some time off or to cut your hours down slightly. Or, you might need to consider whether flexible hours or remote working might be a better long-term solution,” she writes. Although, she does add that it’s OK to not be sure exactly what you need, but do try and think of some small changes that could help. 
What are your rights? It’s important to know what your rights are at work and this includes rights regarding your mental health. The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being discriminated against because of certain protected characteristics such as gender, age or disability – mental health falls under the disability category. Time to Change states: “To get protection under the Equality Act, you have to show that your mental health problem is a disability (that it has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activities). The law covers you during recruitment, employment and if you are being dismissed for any reason, including redundancy. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to work practices and provide other aids and adaptations for disabled employees.”

Although government recommendations aren’t legally binding, it is good for employees and employers to be aware of it. In 2017, the government commissioned Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, to independently review the role employers can play to better support individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace. The Thriving at work report sets out a recommended framework of actions for employers of all sizes to put in place to help those suffering from work-related stress and mental health issues. The ‘core standards’ framework includes suggestions that firms should:

  • produce a mental health at work plan
  • promote communications and open conversations by raising awareness and reducing stigma
  • ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development
  • provide a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes
Mental health first aider Does your organisation have a first aider? The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require employers to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work. But it’s currently not compulsory for employers to have members of staff trained in mental health first aid (MHFA).

However, this could change. A petition calling for First Aid regulations to be updated to put mental and physical health on an equal footing received 200,000 signatures, cross-party support from over 60 MPs and backing from over 50 UK businesses. On 17 January 2019, it was debated in parliament and MPs voted in favour of the petition.  

If your business does have someone trained in MHFA, this person could be a great person to speak to.
Taking a mental health dayHaving a day off that's specifically geared towards stress relief and burnout prevention, known as taking a mental health day, is something people battle with. The Office for National Statistics found that, in 2016, out of the 137 million working days lost due to sickness or injury, 15.8 million of these were due to mental health. However, because of the stigma surrounding mental health, some people may not feel comfortable admitting taking a sick day for a non-physical illness or issue.

A blog post for Fit for Work – an initiative for GPs, employers and employees to help those who are in work with health conditions or off sick – says that taking a mental health day is more commonplace in countries such as the US. It says that doing “something good for your own mental health and wellbeing might prevent the stress levels from escalating. It’s not about shirking your work responsibilities … [it will] minimise unauthorised absences (eg, people lying about being ill) and presenteeism (when people come to work when they aren’t really well enough to work effectively and productively)”. 

‘Eugene The World Record Egg’ (the mysterious, most liked picture on Instagram, with over 52 million likes), recently ‘cracked’ under the pressure of social media attention, revealing it is part of a mental health campaign urging people to seek advice if they’re feeling under pressure. The time has come for speaking out on mental health issues and diminishing the stigma surrounding it. If your mental health is adversely affecting your work, now is the time to take action. 

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Published: 07 Feb 2019
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • work-life balance
  • Time to Talk
  • Time to Change
  • advice
  • mental health

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