Mental Health at Work

We all have ‘mental health’ – sometimes we’re on top of the world, sometimes life is a drudge.  Most of the time, we carry on regardless and things tend to smooth themselves out.  We talk to friends, family, and sometimes colleagues, and set the world to rights again.  But what happens when things spiral out of our control and it all becomes too much?

  • 1 in 4 British workers are affected by conditions like anxiety, depression and stress every year

  • Mental ill-health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, costing an average of £1,035 per employee per year

  • 95% of employees calling in sick with stress gave a different reason

It’s easy to see an external injury or illness but mental health issues like depression can be hard to spot and can often masquerade as something else. Nobody expects employers to be mental health experts, but there are often signs that things are not right with an individual.  They can include:

  • Poor attitude and behaviour
  • Frequent short term sickness absence
  • Regular over-indulgence in alcohol that leads to poor-performance
  • A downturn in productivity and motivation
  • Difficulty in maintaining positive working relationships
  • Major changes in life circumstances – divorce, death, and illness for example.

These are just some of the more common indicators, and there can be many others.  What is true is that as humans, we do tend to be quite switched on when we notice changes in behaviour and mood from the people we work with.  We spend a lot of our time with colleagues after all.

Sadly, employees are often reluctant to disclose mental health problems for fear of being seen as weak or not ‘one of the boys’, or, perhaps worse, that it may affect career aspirations and ultimately, employability.  Inability to confide or acknowledge mental health problems generally exacerbates the issue and leaves the individual feeling ever more isolated.  Additionally, employees need to know that their issues will be treated sensitively and confidentially.


The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:

“a state of well-being in which every individual realises his/her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”


Fortunately, there is a current trend towards identifying mental health issues in the workplace – notably the ‘Heads Together’ campaign backed by the younger royals and ‘Time to Change’ backed by Ruby Wax, who has written extensively on the subject.  All of these campaigns have one thing in common – they encourage communication and openness. 

Having one-to-one meetings regularly and open forum communications enable a supportive environment to develop, along with robust education and training on the subject.

For help in understanding the signs of potential mental health issues and what you can do to help look at:

All of these organisations offer resources and help when it’s needed urgently.  Have a look and put it on your agenda – it could save you more than just money…


Kate Forman
Director of People and Learning

About the author

Kate is the chairman and co-founder of RWA and has worked for the company for nearly 20 years. She is a fan of developing practical, workable, business-led policies and procedures. Kate has specialist training experience within the financial services sector, including major general insurers, and the Lloyd’s underwriting and broking market. She has researched and developed numerous training programmes, both for commercial and in-house use. She has extensive experience of developing in-house and public training programmes for business skills, including Diversity, Employment Law, Management and Leadership, Motivation, Coaching and Feedback, Communication Skills and EQ.

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