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Identifying Mental Health Problems at Work

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 20 Aug 2020 | comments*Discuss
Mental Health Problems Work Employer

Identifying mental health problems at work may seem an area full of difficulty – and it is. But to ignore the signs of mental ill health is to treat people who suffer from such problems less favourably than others. This is unfair and may infringe the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).


The DDA opposes discrimination against disabled people in situations such as work. People who have mental health problems may not think of themselves as disabled. But the Act gives them similar rights to those of Physically Disabled Staff.

There isn’t a list of mental health conditions that the Act covers. If a mental illness has a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to handle daily activities, however, the Act may apply.

Such illnesses are likely to be severe depression; bipolar disorder; dementia; schizophrenia; self-harming; and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The Workplace

The legal point about identifying people who suffer from these and other mental illnesses is similar to that used for physically disabled people. An employer must ensure that the workplace doesn’t discriminate against them. This means that staff with mental health problems must have Equal Opportunities at Work.


So how do employers – and work colleagues – identify someone with mental ill health?

Behaviour to be aware of includes regular lateness; sleepiness during the day; mood swings; depression; extreme anxiety; withdrawal from colleagues; sudden over-exuberance; excessive smoking; evidence of self-harming and Depression and Extreme Anxiety.

Many people would argue that they suffer from some of these traits from time to time. What matters from the mental health viewpoint is that these traits are frequent and significantly affect the way someone is doing a job.


Someone with a mental health problem, of course, may not wish to talk about it. An employer must therefore approach the matter with sensitivity and discretion.

Using this approach, an employer should make adjustments to working routines to account for the mental ill health of a member of staff. For example, if someone takes medication to combat a mental illness, the drugs may cause drowsiness in the morning. To offset this, the employer could suggest that the employee starts work later in the day.

Other people with a mental illness may need to take regular short breaks away from colleagues. Again, the employer should allow this.

Some people may also feel that the nature of their work is affecting their mental health recovery. An employer should consider changing this work if possible.

Counselling and Mentoring

Useful additions to such approaches are counselling and mentoring. Many large companies have counselling services that can benefit someone with a mental illness. Such companies should publicise the service throughout their organisation using their Human Resources department.

Mentoring can also help in some circumstances. A senior person acts as a confidential mentor during the working day. He or she becomes the first point of contact if a colleague with a mental health problem needs to talk about work.

Such measures help to keep people with mental health problems in the workplace. This can be good for all concerned.

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I am suffering with serious varicose veins and they are painful. My job in a shop is so short staffed and busy that I struggle to get a break. I get paid for 7.5 hours but end up working 8.5 . I have voiced my concerns but other managers just say it's the norm. What do I do without risking my job?
Angie - 20-Aug-20 @ 2:42 PM
What can l do when they sack because of my mental health and way l was not coping
Mary - 22-Dec-19 @ 9:19 AM
I have been working with my company for 6 months. 6 weeks ago my 4 year old suffered a head injury and I had to take him to hospital so missed work that day, I supplied proof of this. On my return to work my manager called me to the office and said they didn’t believe me and it was questionable wether I took the time off for some other reason, I was given a letter saying any repeat of this would result in an early probation hearing and termination. Since then I have suffered at work with silent treatment, isolation and the feeling that I’m not wanted. I do suffer with anxiety which the company new about when I started and I started suffering this every day when thinking of going to work. I went to my doctor who signed me off for 2 weeks. On my return no one mentioned my anxiety sickness for 2 days then on the 3rd day I was called to the office and told that due to being sick I was probably going to be sacked but they weren’tgoing to make a decision for another 3 days I didn’t understand why I had to wait to be told wether I was going to be sacked or not. I got very upset and started having a panic/anxiety attack. They then handed me a card with a number on if I felt suicidal and told me to go back to work which I did, over the following hour I felt sick/ dizzy and had heart palpitations I went to the toilets locked myself in a cubicle and passed out. After a while I left the toilet and told someone I had to go as I was unwell and I left the building. I have an emergency appointment to see my doctor in the morning but I have no idea where I stand with work as they have made it obvious they don’t want me there. Can you advise what I can or should do please?
Charl - 11-Sep-19 @ 10:08 PM
I have beent an agency for several years from 20011"'2017 and had 11 sick days in that time,then at th beginning of November had to go on long sick due to family issues, I'm now ready to go back to the job I wasassigned to can the agency refuse to signme up with them again although the employees have said they would be happy for me to back can this bedone many thanks
None - 10-May-18 @ 9:13 PM
I've got mental health problems and my work have treated me pretty horrible ? I was off on sick and the owner asked to see my medical records.
angie - 18-Mar-18 @ 11:13 PM
I am back on phase return due to mental health now I have been told I am being paid by the hr this is making so stressed can I do anything as I was on the understanding I would be paid in full on my phase return to work
Mugg - 23-Oct-17 @ 8:21 PM
I have been off work since Nov 2016 with anxiety and depression through the way I was treated by a manager . Can my company pay me off due to ill health after 19 yrs of service ?
Jack - 23-Jan-17 @ 10:36 PM
I feel frightened of going to work. I've been working at this one place for 17 year's. I have been threatened by supervisors, shouted at by them, when I ask them to show me what I have to do like as if I should know. For instance One supervisor was changing a tool on an extruder and he told me to that I have to operate two machines , and I didn't know how to reset the counter on the one machine after the count had been reached,so I asked the supervisor and he started shouting and left me to it.so the parts we're piling up.I said that I can always go home , he said go on then F off. All weekend I have just sat on the settee feeling very scared, anxious, depressed.I have been on strong medication before and feel that I may have to go back on it.I find it difficult to eat or sleep.Im really worried.
ricky - 15-Jan-17 @ 9:30 PM
I have been diagnosed with depression sometime ago.my place of work are fine about it.the only problem is wen I want to phone work to tell them that,im not coming in through my depression,i cannot get through,or no one answers the phone.it takes that long to try and get through that I give up trying
Ren - 18-Aug-16 @ 4:49 PM
I went through redundant last year I was extremely ill management and staff knew apart from. They offered my another job I accepted but became sicker. My boss tried to keep me telling me I was ill couldnt hear him. He decided to pull the job offer. They offered me marity but I ended resigning and still wasnt aware.Once realised I tried to retract they refused. Been ill sinceThere was no health assessment, medical assistance. Nothing let me walk the blank.
Hope - 21-Jun-16 @ 10:38 AM
I'm recently suffering for bad anexity I can't pin point why it started or were its come from I've work for my company nearly 5 years and now I can't even go in there it scares me
Taz - 12-Jun-16 @ 10:36 PM
How I control off such looking for something over and over and move to something else looking over and over please advise
Joe - 11-Apr-16 @ 11:45 PM
If you decide it would be looked at more favorably from your employer to do so I suggest you are accompanied by someone to the meeting who has knowledge of ACAS and be your representative and fo most of the questions answering if you feel tounge tied etc Good luck.
dave - 7-Aug-15 @ 11:58 AM
@muttley - is the meeting to discuss your absence or another work matter?
SafeWorkers - 16-Feb-15 @ 12:52 PM
Im signed off work with stress and depression only been home one day had a phone call from work asking me to come in for a meeting I didnt feel up to it but I know if im of again next week they will be phoneing me agian causeing me more stress do I have to go for this meeting ? Need time away from there thanks
muttley - 14-Feb-15 @ 2:12 AM
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