Helping Workers with Stress and Mental Health Problems

Mental health problems can affect people at any time of life in a variety of ways. Mental health issues include conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, self-harm, bipolar disorder and dementia. This is not a complete list, and there are varying degrees of severity.

How Can Occupational Health (OH) Services Help?

OH services offer frontline assistance for managers and employers who need help and advice when dealing with mental health conditions and resulting situations at work. This can be in the form of mental health first aid advice or temporary/long-term adjustments. Here are some frequently used work adjustments:

  • Using a phased return to work after absence—starting with part-time work and building up hours over a number of weeks/months (e.g., gradual exposure to the more difficult tasks, fewer hours that increase over a month)
  • Reviewing aspects of the job that are particularly stressful and rearranging responsibilities
  • Adjusting the job by varying the tasks
  • Reviewing training or development needs after absence or illness
  • Working from home
  • Taking time off for counselling/therapy, etc.
  • Changing shift patterns or exploring different work options (e.g., part-time, job share)
  • Offering flexible working around agreed objectives
  • Implementing a later or earlier start to avoid rush-hour travel
  • Conducting an environmental review of the physical environment to make sure that all is satisfactory
  • Providing access to a quiet area or room for when the worker feels anxious or stressed
  • Providing a work-based mentor

OH services also provide training, advice and guidance on raising awareness of mental health in your organisation as well as one-to-one referrals for those who have more complex needs or are struggling with work, even with adjustments.

What’s the Impact on Your Business?

It is important to treat mental health issues in a matter of fact way, as they are quite common. Employees need to feel confident and supported if they choose to tell you about their mental health issues. Keep details of their condition as confidential as possible; team members see this which encourages others to talk to you if they are experiencing problems

Watch out for hostile reactions from other members of the team and stamp out hurtful gossip or bullying.

Stressful events happen throughout life, so try to be aware of personal circumstances such as treatments, illnesses and other factors that may contribute to an employee’s mental distress and ability to cope.

Adjustments at work may not necessarily meet all of an individual’s needs, so it is important to review work and performance on a regular basis as part of your normal management practice.

What’s the Impact on Your Workers?

Mental distress can affect how people think, feel and act; as a result, people may behave, communicate or respond in ways that seem different to that expected and at odds to what is happening around them.

Is There Any Law about This?

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act sets out a general duty to protect the health and safety of those at work.
  • The Management of Health and Safety Regulations give explicit duties to undertake risk assessments, and stress would need such an assessment.
  • Records of sickness absence for statutory sick pay.
  • If a mental health problem has long-term effects on someone’s normal day-to-day activity, then the individual will likely be defined as disabled under the Equality Act.
  • Many people with a mental health condition do not think of themselves as disabled, but they may have rights supported by the Equality Act. The rights may cover any reasonable adjustments that an employer could make to help keep an employee at work or return to work after illness.

Further Advice

  • NHS Choices for information on a number of specific mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, long-term illnesses and eating disorders, plus treatment and talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy
  • MIND provides information and advice on mental health via the MIND Infoline on 0300 123 3393
  • The Health and Safety Executive has published the Stress Management Standards and general workplace advice

From Working Well Solutions

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