Let’s talk about mental health

 Mental health problems at work cost the UK economy almost £35bn in 2017 according to research by the Centre for Mental Health. This equates to £1,300 for every single worker employed in the UK. Business costs are wide reaching and include lower productivity at work (£21.2bn), sickness absence (£10.6bn) and staff turnover (£3.1bn).

“At any one time, one in five working people will have a mental health difficulty”, Sarah Hughes, Centre for Mental Health Chief Executive says. “Many will never get any help. Some end up losing their jobs while for others being at work is an important part of recovering from a mental health problem.”

The good news is that employers are now taking mental health seriously. They are doing more to establish support structures that help staff to address issues and overcome them. However, the costs have spiralled compared to a decade ago. The onus is on the government and business to make it a priority. Hughes concludes: “Those that ignore the issue, or who undermine the mental health of their staff, risk not only the health of the people who work for them but the wealth of their business and the health of the economy as a whole.”

What is mental health?

Mental health is anchored by an individual’s psychological wellbeing. They are unable to fulfil their own potential, cope with life and play an active role in a family, workplace and local community. Mental health contributes to a person’s overall health. The World Health Organization says health can be considered to be a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

What are mental health problems?

Everyone goes through fluctuations in mood and feelings but, the majority of the time, these pass and an individual returns to a state of wellbeing. However, certain feelings may linger and then develop into more serious problems. This can happen to anyone. A few early warning signs that you or a person you know is struggling with mental health problems include:

  • Lack of sleep or too much sleep
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Lack of energy
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Increased consumption of alcohol or drugs
  • Severe mood swings
  • Persistent thoughts and memories
  • Inability to perform important daily tasks
  • Lack of interest in activities and tasks that were previously enjoyed
  • Thoughts of harming oneself or others
  • Feeling more anxious, worried, scared, upset, confused or forgetful
  • Isolating oneself away from others and usual activities

Mental health is not a constant state of being, it will fluctuate during our lives, especially during highly stressful moments. You may find it easy to bounce back from a setback or traumatic event while others will struggle to make sense of it and overcome it for a longer period of time. Everyone is different but it is in everyone’s best interests to be vigilant and understanding about mental health and how it can affect how we think, feel and act.

Types of mental health problems

Anxiety and panic attacks

Anxiety is an emotion that everyone will experience from time to time. It can become more serious when an individual has persistent feelings of anxiety and it prevents them from functioning properly in day to day life. Panic attacks are an extension of anxiety. Individuals can experience shortness of breath, blurred vision, accelerated heart rate or sweating due to overwhelming or intense feelings of anxiety.

  • 6 in 100 people experience the common anxiety problem known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (Source: MIND)


Depression is more than just isolated feelings of sadness, it is an extended period of low mood, which makes it difficult to function, have fun or enjoy life. Specific events can trigger depression and it can manifest in a variety of ways. Those suffering from depression often struggle to understand why they are feeling this way and have no idea about what they can do to feel better. Similarly, people often believe the individual can merely ‘snap out of it’, but this is not helpful or relevant.

  • It is estimated that 3 in 100 people in the UK experience depression during a single week
  • 8 in 100 people experience both anxiety and depression (Source: MIND)

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is often termed as manic depression and is a condition that involves ‘high’ periods of excitement and confidence followed by ‘low’ periods of depression and low self-esteem. There are three main types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I, Bipolar II and Cyclothymia. A psychologist is the only professional who can diagnose bipolar disorder.

  • 2% of the UK population fit the criteria for a diagnosis but many never receive a formal bipolar examination (Source: Time to Change)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a diagnosis stemming from a particularly traumatic event in a person’s life. It can develop straight after the event or further down the line. It often includes symptoms such as being emotionally numb, reliving the event via flashbacks and nightmares, and suffering feelings of anxiousness.

  • 4% of the UK population fit the criteria for PTSD (Source: Time to Change)

Eating disorders

Unhealthy thoughts and behaviours linked to the consumption of food and body shape are commonly associated with eating disorders. The most well-known disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

OCD is defined as obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that go beyond what is reasonable. Those suffering from OCD often perform rituals, experience correcting thoughts, check things obsessively and need constant reassurance from others. These actions often stem from a concern about one’s safety or that of friends or family, fears of infection or disease, worries about things being in order and unwelcome or intrusive thoughts.

Other mental health problems include psychosis, schizophrenia, self-harm and suicidal feelings.

Why don’t people talk?

People are often afraid to speak up about mental health problems due to fear of discrimination and feelings of shame. A world where everyone is open and ready to communicate about mental health challenges is a world where these problems do not carry any sort of stigma.

Unfortunately, people often internalize their problems and feel like they cannot seek the help they need. This only exacerbates the issue and leaves people isolated and alone. The arrival of work-based policies and legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 means progress is being made. Employers, managers and employees can all contribute to positive mental health by being vigilant and aware of the challenges each person faces and ready and willing to take action to support an individual during tough times and rehabilitate them back into work.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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