10th October 2017 was World Mental Health Day, a day for showing support for better mental health. With one in four adults likely to have a mental health issues in any given year, people are becoming aware of the need to look after their own wellbeing.

Work pressures can have a significant impact on mental health. The World Federation of Mental Health, who promote mental wellness at work, recently reported that 6 out of 10 employees suffering with depression say that they hide the condition from their employer (as surveyed by Silver Ribbon Singapore).

In the UK, many employers are alert to the scale of poor mental health in the workplace, but accordingly to a new report, more still needs to be done. The Mental Health at Work Report 2017 is the second National Employee Mental Wellbeing Survey undertaken by Business in the Community (in partnership with YouGov) and it reveals that although there has been progress, many men and women with mental health issues suffer in silence in work, as they feel unable to seek help from colleagues or managers, for fear of prejudice and exclusion.

These fears are, to a large degree, prohibited under Employment Law (as discussed below) but in the report, which surveyed 3,000 workers across the UK, the following was identified:

  • 60% had experienced mental health issues in the last year because of work;
  • 53% of those surveyed felt comfortable talking about mental health issues at work;
  • 49% believed their employer had taken significant steps to minimise their exposure to mental health problems.
  • 32% were allowed time off when they raised a mental health concern (compared to 30% in 2016); and
  • 49% said that employers had taken action to address mental health concerns in the workplace (compared to 44% in 2016).

It was noted was that whilst 84% of employers acknowledge that they have a responsibility towards their employee’s mental wellbeing, and 91% of managers agreeing that what they do affects the wellbeing of their staff, less than a quarter (24%) of managers have received any training in mental health. 27% argued that the focus on performance targets in their business resulted in them not having enough time to monitor workers potentially at risk of mental health problems.

More than 5 million staff are signed off work each year, with one in three (31%) of the sick notes issued by GP’s relating to mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression – a rise of 14%. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently commented that these figures were “alarming,” and urged employers to do more to help support staff struggling with common mental health problems such as depression.

Employers will be aware that Employment Law protects employees against discriminatory treatment in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of certain ‘protected characteristics’ which include gender, age and disability. Mental health would fall into the category of ‘disability’ if an employee can show that their mental health problem has a ‘substantial, adverse, and long-term effect’ on their ability to perform ‘normal day-to-day activities’. This applies during recruitment and their employment and employers must make reasonable adjustments to work practices, and provide other aids and adaptations, for disabled employees.

There are a number of ways in which an employer can ensure that mental health issues are better understood. Training for staff would be a good starting point – Business in The Community provides an online toolkit for employers (www.bitc.org.uk), and Mind, the national mental health charity, offers support for staff and manager in the form of information booklets, leaflets and training courses (www.mind.org.uk/workplace/training-consultancy).

Both websites are well worth a visit, and a prudent employer will find that starting this journey sooner rather than later will be beneficial both in the short-term, by reducing the number of absences due to poor mental health, and long term in relation to unlocking the full potential and productivity of all staff.

If you would like further information on this article, or have any Employment Law queries, please contact Probert Legal Limited – solicitors based in Exeter covering Devon, Cornwall and the rest of UK.