Mental Health and the Workplace

Mental Health and the Workplace

  • Date: Monday 15th May 2017

Mental health can be a taboo subject; something that many of us feel we cannot be open about, particularly at work. Employees will often communicate openly when it comes to discussing physical injury or ill health but talking about how they are feeling is often a difficult challenge. Due to the stigma surrounding the subject of mental health, employees lack confidence in approaching managers because of fear of discrimination and ignorance around the subject.


Statistics estimate that at least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Many of the symptoms are similar to those that people experience when they are under considerable pressure e.g. sleepless nights, loss of or increased appetite or feelings or fear and panic, or uneasiness. If employees are already feeling under pressure it can become hard to distinguish when stress turns into a mental health problem and when an existing mental health problem becomes exaggerated through stress at work.

Management of Mental Health in the Workplace

A focus should be placed on mental well-being when managing health in the workplace.  A holistic approach to promoting the mental and physical well-being of staff will repay investment many times over in terms of productivity and morale. By presenting the issue in terms of well-being, companies will be more likely to overcome the barriers around stigma and to achieve engagement from staff. The global economy is changing fast and the capabilities that organisations require now centre more on communication and emotional intelligence.

The earlier you notice that an employee is experiencing mental health difficulties the better for all concerned. Line managers are crucial to identifying and addressing the barriers to normal working life and can make the biggest difference in the field of mental health at work by reacting appropriately to signs of distress.

When identifying some of the signs and symptoms some of the key things to look out for are changes in a person’s usual behaviour, poor performance, tiredness and increased sickness absence. Other signs, particularly if someone is depressed might be tearfulness, headaches, loss of humour and changes in emotional mood.

Managers should be aware of the wider organisation’s impact on employees. It might be that certain tasks, the work environment, time of the day or particular departments are more likely to be associated with employees experiencing difficulties.

Regular communication in the form of appraisals or informal chats about progress are useful management processes which can provide neutral and non-stigmatising opportunities to find out about any problems an employee may be having.

Maintaining contact during periods of absence and a phased return to work can help employees recover speed, strength and agility of both mind and body. Adjusting work in the early days after an extended spell of absence to promote full recovery will help ease the individual back into productive employment.  These adjustments are simple, inexpensive and need only be temporary.

Source: Gemma McDonald, SSG 

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