What is mental ill health?

Mental ill health covers a variety of different conditions, ranging from depression, anxiety and stress related disorders to schizophrenia and personality disorder. In the workplace the primary manifestations of mental ill health are anxiety, stress and depression which, although they may not be caused directly by work, are frequently exacerbated by it.

What do we mean by ‘stress’?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work”. A certain level of pressure in a business environment is desirable. Pressure helps to motivate people and boosts their energy and productivity. But when the pressure someone is under becomes too much to cope with, that positive force turns negative and becomes stress. But people can also feel stressed when too few demands are made on them – when they are bored, under-stimulated or feel undervalued. Stress is not technically a medical condition, and most of us can cope with short bursts of stress, but research shows that prolonged stress is linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

What you can do to support your staff

The organisations that are leading the way in understanding, identifying and supporting the need for good mental health in the workplace are investing in developing their managers. MHFA training is one way to educate managers and teams to spot the first signs of mental ill health and give them the knowledge and confidence to help colleagues in distress. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards use a risk assessment process to help organisations identify the extent and causes of employees’ work-related stress, and suggest ways that everyone in the organisation can work together to prevent and manage stress more effectively. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Investors in People have also developed a stress management ‘competency indicator’ framework of tools to allow managers to assess whether they currently have the behaviours identified as effective for preventing and reducing stress at work.

Relevant legislation

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA)

Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA)

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Equality Act 2010

Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013. (This removed legislative barriers to people with mental health issues being company directors)