What is mental health?

Mental health is about how you feel, think and behave. It isn't something people can see. It involves your mood, happiness and levels of anxiety and stress.

Having good mental health is crucial for us all.

But mental health problems are common. They include:

  • anxiety
  • burnout
  • depression
  • eating disorders
  • phobias
  • stress
  • obsessions.

Many mental health problems are mild, short-term and treatable.

A problem can build up over time or be triggered after something happens. It's important that we recognise a problem when it starts.

But some people live with mental health problems for a long time. Or even their whole life.

Poor mental health can be classed as a disability. It's considered a disability if it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your normal day-to-day activities. Your condition is long term if it lasts, or is likely to last, at least 12 months.

Responsibilities of employers

The workplace can be a source of mental health problems. Sometimes it can make problems that already exist worse.

Employers have a legal responsibility to look after the people they employ.

If an employee has a mental health problem, their employer must take it seriously. They must act when it is necessary.

Employers should make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to support people who have problems at work. They should also provide support and guidance to employees so that they can get additional help if needed outside work.

It's illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee because of a disability.

What to do if you think you've got a mental health problem

If the way you think, feel or behave is having an impact on you and the people around you, speak to a doctor. For example by contacting your GP or ringing 111 or other medical professionals who can offer you advice. Charities such as Mind offer support and explain who you can go to for extra help. 

If you are experiencing a mental health problem at work, you can speak to your manager or HR or people team about it. You do not have to do so. Mental health can be difficult to talk about. But, if you don’t let your employer know about the problems you are facing, it can be difficult for them to do anything about it.

Your employer has a responsibility to support you and could:

  • make a referral to occupational health for recommendations on how to help you
  • change your working hours
  • change how you do your job
  • change where you do your job
  • give you specialist equipment
  • help your colleagues to understand you better
  • help to build your confidence
  • offer you a phased return to work if you've been off.

And, if you need any extra help with a mental health condition that makes it hard for you to do your job, you can apply to the Access to Work scheme on GOV.UK.

There are also steps you can take to stay healthy at work:

  • talk about how you feel with others
  • ask for help if you need it
  • take regular breaks
  • keep active
  • eat well
  • limit your alcohol intake
  • get enough and proper sleep.

If you feel you've been the victim of discrimination due to a mental health problem, you could have a claim at an employment tribunal.

Talk to your employer first or raise a formal complaint using the process set out in your employer’s grievance policy. If that fails, seek legal advice

Be aware that if you want to bring a claim for discrimination there are strict time limits for doing so. Claims must generally be brought within three months of the issue you are unhappy about. Discrimination claims can be complicated. You should seek specialist advice and support as soon as you can.

Need help?

Try these sources of help and information:

More on mental health in the workplace