This series of blogs is developed from the leaflet provided by the Mental Health Foundation to encourage you to think more about mental health in the workplace and inform you what you can do to take steps to creating an environment where staff feel safe and supported.

Having a fulfilling job can be good for your mental health and general well-being.

For most of us, work is a huge part of our lives. It is where we spend a lot of our time, where we get our income and often where make our friends.

We all have times when life gets on top of us – sometimes that’s work-related, like deadlines or travel. Sometimes it’s something else – our health, our relationships, or our circumstances.

It’s vital that we protect that value by addressing mental health at work for those with existing issues, for those at risk, and for the workforce as a whole. A toxic work environment can be corrosive to our mental health.

After reading these blogs you should have an idea of how to manage your own mental health at work, how to reach out to a colleague in distress and have an idea how you can work with others to make your workplace more mentally healthy for everyone.

Check out the other blogs in the series,  10 ways to improve your mental health and supporting a colleague.


The way we think, feel, and are able to handle ups and downs are all aspects of our mental health. Everyone has some level of mental health. We have a feeling of direction and purpose, the energy to accomplish our goals, and the capacity to overcome obstacles in our life when we have strong mental health. We are aware that there are acceptable times to maintain our physical fitness and other times to seek the right assistance as soon as possible in order to recover. The same rules apply to mental health. If you enjoy good mental health, you can:

  • Play a full part in your relationships, your workplace, and your community
  • Cope with what life throws at you
  • Make the most of your potential

Our mental health doesn’t always stay the same.

It may vary as situations evolve and as you pass through various periods of life. When someone isn’t coping, for whatever cause, it’s called being in distress. It may be a difficulty at home, work-related stress, or the beginning of a mental health issue like depression.

When we feel hopeless, we need a compassionate, human response. The earlier we are able to recognise when something isn’t quite right, the earlier we can get support.

 What are mental health problems?

Everyone has moments of sadness, worry, or fear. Although these emotions often pass, they can occasionally turn into mental health issues like anxiety or depression, which can have an effect on our everyday life. Some people have significant mental health issues that need ongoing attention and care. We are more prone to have mental health issues due to factors including poverty, heredity, childhood trauma, prejudice, or chronic physical illness, but anybody can experience mental health issues.

Did you know 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England? 

Every week, at least 8 in 100 people are diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depression.

As a rule, you should seek help from your GP if you have difficult feelings that are:

  • Stopping you from getting on with life
  • Causing you to have thoughts of suicide
  • Affecting your mood over several weeks
  • Having a big impact on the people you live or work with

We could feel more worn out than normal while at work. We might behave irrationally, struggle to stay motivated, get behind on our timekeeping, or make blunders that are out of character. We may appear or feel extremely worn out or depleted. We may discover that we withdraw ourselves, avoid working with others, or look disoriented. We could put off things longer or stop moving completely. As an alternative, we could work too quickly or erratically, interfering with others’ work and discussions, and taking on more work than we can handle.

It can be challenging for us to see these early warning indicators in ourselves, so having co-workers who can assist us make the connection to our mental health might be beneficial. If the situation worsens, you could notice more overt indications of a mental health issue in a co-worker, such as angry or emotional outbursts, absences from work, or a lack of typical attention to personal hygiene. You could notice indications that they’ve been getting less sleep or maybe even drinking more in the evening.

Why don’t people talk about mental health?

Although there is more awareness of mental health issues, there are still many barriers that persons with mental health issues must overcome in order to access the care they require. Many people who are in distress attempt to hide their emotions out of concern for how other people may react. The top two justifications given for not disclosing mental health issues to colleagues are fear of discrimination and feelings of shame.

It is simpler for people to speak openly about mental health issues and to ask for support when they do, when we foster workplace environments where individuals are free to be themselves. Even yet, many do not take the decision to share their difficulties at work lightly. It is critical that organisations develop a sense of safety that allows employees to be themselves.

What does the law say?

We have a variety of legislative protections in place to safeguard our mental health at work. These vary from fundamental human rights like the freedom of expression and association to health and safety laws that protect us from dangers like psychological dangers. The majority of those who experience persistent mental health issues fall under the definition of a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995, as amended) in Northern Ireland and the Equality Act (2010) in England, Scotland, and Wales. This implies that persons with mental health issues are entitled to reasonable accommodations to modify their job or place of employment and are protected from discrimination and harassment. To be considered disabled under equality legislation, a person must have an impairment that has “a substantial, adverse, and long-term impact on their ability to carry out everyday tasks”.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland provides information about the different protections for people with mental health problems in Northern Ireland.

A disabled person has the right to request that their employment or workplace provide reasonable adjustments for their needs. By reducing a barrier to employment posed by the effects of their mental health issue, an adjustment aims to level the playing field.

Examples of reasonable adjustments might include:

  • Changing a person’s working pattern to enable them to start later or finish earlier because of the side effects of medication, or allowing them to travel the night before meetings and stay over to avoid early morning travel.
  • Excusing someone from attending work functions and client events involving food, instead allowing them to set up alternative networking arrangements that achieve similar business returns.
  • Providing a person with a laptop, remote access software and permission to work at home on set days, or flexibly according to the severity of their symptoms (within a monthly limit)

If the expense of making appropriate adaptations is a deterrent, the government-funded Access to Work programme may be able to assist in funding the necessary software and other support. In addition to requiring reasonable modifications, the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act both forbid harassing someone for having a protected feature. This implies that, just like they would for other protected characteristics like gender, sexual orientation, race, or faith or belief, employers have a responsibility to address bullying and discriminatory behaviours linked to mental health.


Access the full guide on supporting mental health at work here and see NIG Risk Assist for more information regarding health & safety at work.

Talbot Jones Ltd is a family-run chartered insurance heritage specialist in the Third Sector and Professional risks. Get in touch for free insurance advice, review or quotation.