This year, World Mental Health Day will focus on young people and mental health in a changing world.
Every year one adult in four, along with one child in ten, will have a mental health issue. These conditions can profoundly affect literally millions of lives, affecting the capability of these individuals to make it through the day. Although the stigma of mental illness affects many aspects of the person’s life it has the greatest impact on work.
It is perhaps not surprising that many people are reluctant to disclose their psychiatric history at the pre-employment assessment. Many fear they might not get a job offer or that treatment will be different as a result.
Raising Mental Health Awareness at Work
These days, our working lives are much busier and faster-paced than ever before. Many people may not have come across colleagues taking time off due to mental health issues. Mental ill health affects the productivity of those in work by impairing their ability to function at full capacity. It causes about 40% of all days lost through sickness absence.
Mental health can still be a taboo subject in the workplace. Experiencing anxiety or depression is not something we usually chat to our colleagues about over lunch. The likelihood, though, is that someone you work with has experienced or is experiencing a mental health issue.
Workplaces can offer vital lines of support for people experiencing mental health issues. For instance, employers can carry out stress risk assessments to gauge the levels of stress in their workplace and work out how to tackle it.
Employers have a duty of care to create a workplace culture that does not shy away from discussion of mental health issues; it needs to be clear to all employees that time off work due to mental ill health is no different to time off due to physical ill health.
Training for managers in how to spot the signs of someone experiencing mental health issues is necessary and to how to sensitively broach the topic with employees.
So, if you see a colleague or employee showing signs of struggling with their mental health, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Enabling an open and sensitive discussion around the subject will help to lessen the stigma for everyone, and make mental health easier to tackle as a result.
The Equality Act
- The Equality Act 2010 gives you the right to challenge discrimination. This law may protect you from discrimination when you are applying for a job, in work or being made redundant or dismissed.
- To get protection under the Equality Act, you usually need to show that your mental health problem is a disability. The Act says you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse, and long term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The focus is on the effect of your mental health problem, rather than the diagnosis. So you need to show that your mental health problem:
- has more than a small effect on your everyday life
- makes things more difficult for you
- has lasted at least 12 months, is likely to last 12 months, or (if your mental health problem has improved) that it is likely to recur.
- If you have a mental health problem that is a disability, and you want the protection of the Equality Act, you will need to tell your employer about it.
If you think you have experienced disability discrimination at work, there are several things you can do to challenge the discrimination:
- It’s best to resolve disputes informally if you can.
- If you cannot sort your problems informally or by raising a formal grievance, you can make a claim to the Employment Tribunal. If you are successful, the Tribunal has power to award you financial compensation and/or make a recommendation that your employer makes reasonable adjustment to help you at work.
- Employers should ensure they have rules in place to prevent disability discrimination in:
- recruitment and selection
- determining pay, terms and conditions
- sickness absence
- training and development
Other employment rights
- Employees with two years’ service have rights related to redundancy and unfair dismissal
- Generally, employers can’t ask you questions about your mental health or other disability before a job offer is made though there are some exceptions: for example,
- if the job being applied for involves heavy lifting the employer is permitted to ask questions about the applicant’s health to establish whether or not they are able to do the job (with reasonable adjustments for a disabled applicant, if required)
- employers can also make health enquiries to find out whether or not reasonable adjustments may need to be made to the assessment process, for example to allow an applicant with a speech impairment more time at interview. However, questions about reasonable adjustments needed for the job itself should not be asked until the job offer has been made.
Support at work for Mental Health
Small things make a difference to those suffering from mental health.
James, a City banker, said his employers allowed him to make a gradual return to work, starting back after a few months recovery with a reduced workload. James said: “My colleagues deserve great credit for having supported my recovery. I was rather dreading their reaction after being off work following a serious episode of bipolar disorder. I even doubted whether it made sense to continue in a high-powered job. But once I explained things to them they could see I was still the same old James and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Economically their decision has paid dividends as I have been one of the highest earners in the years since returning to work.”
Raza, a mental health charity worker, said: “In one job I almost collapsed in the office at my desk. My line manager, who herself had experience of mental distress, came over to me and we had a cup of tea together. She ordered a taxi to take me to the train station. Little things like that made me feel safe and able to open up to people about what I was going through. I probably worked harder for that organisation as a result too – so it made good business sense!”
For any advice as an employer or employee contact our team and see if we can help.