Identifying Mental Health Problems at Work

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.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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