worker and employer reviewing mental health of worker

Dealing with mental ill-health when an individual is at work

There are many types of mental health issues. An issue can happen suddenly, because of a specific event in someone’s life, or it can build up gradually over time.

Some common mental health issues include stress (while not classed as a medical condition, it can still have a serious impact on wellbeing), depression and anxiety. Other mental health issues can include bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia.

Employers have a duty of care for their employees. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. This includes:

  • making sure the working environment is safe
  • carrying out risk assessments
  • protecting staff from discrimination

Positive Workplace

If staff feel they can talk openly about mental health, problems are less likely to build up. This could lead to less time off for a mental health issue and improved morale in the workplace.

  • Employers should treat mental and physical health as equally important.
  • They should make sure employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers to talk about any problems they’re having.
  • Managers should encourage positive mental health, such as arranging mental health awareness training, workshops or appointing mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to.

Good communication is key. It’s always invaluable to talk to the individual – they may be the best judge of what would help them at that time.

Training and support for line managers

The ongoing training of line managers in how to manage employees with mental health problems will help them to identify when there may be a problem, and how to manage it.

Employers should also think about using and promoting the services of an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and Mental Health First Aiders. For more information on EAPs click here.

Stress Risk Assessments

Managers should also know how to perform an individual stress risk assessment if an employee is struggling at work due to mental ill-health, whether the cause is personal or work-related. This may help reduce pressures and identify temporary support until the stressors resolve or they find effective coping strategies to make their stress-related symptoms more manageable.

A stress risk assessment involves a formal, documented conversation with the employee and their manager, to understand what they find particularly stressful in the workplace and to identify actions that can be taken to help reduce those pressures where possible, recognising that some areas of pressure may not be able to be significantly changed. Often, dealing with some of the smaller pressures can reduce the impact of the areas of greater pressure. It is important that the risk assessment is reviewed regularly, until the individual’s symptoms have stabilised or the pressures have reduced.

Employers and line managers may also be able to identify possible temporary adjustments that may help the employee, such as reduced hours, flexibility, more breaks to manage symptoms, reduced responsibilities, longer deadlines or working from home. If you are unsure how to carry out a stress risk assessment, contact us at Occupational Health Services for guidance and advice.


A mental health issue can be considered a disability under the law (Equality Act 2010) if all of the following apply:

  • it has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the life of an employee (for example, they regularly cannot focus on a task, or it takes them longer to do).
  • it lasts at least 12 months or is expected to.
  • it affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities (for example, interacting with people, following instructions or keeping to set working times).

A mental health issue can be considered a disability even if there are not symptoms all the time, or the symptoms are better at some times than at others. If an employee has a disability, employers must not discriminate against them because of their disability and they must consider making reasonable adjustments.

It’s a good idea to work with the employee to make the right adjustments for them, even if the issue is not a disability. Often, simple changes to the person’s working arrangements or responsibilities could be enough, such as allowing them more rest breaks and working with them each day to help prioritise their workload.

Do you need help dealing with mental health issues for your employees? Visit our Mental Health in the Workplace page to find out more.  You can always talk to us to ask for advice or to discuss your needs in more detail.