It is estimated that one in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point. Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems. They are often a reaction to a difficult life event, such as bereavement, but can also be caused by work-related issues, more so than ever before.
Stress is a reaction to events or experiences in someone’s home life, work life or a combination of both. Common mental health problems can have a single cause outside work, for example bereavement, divorce, postnatal depression, a medical condition or a family history of the problem. But people can have these sorts of problems with no obvious causes.
Work can aggravate pre-existing conditions, and problems at work can bring on symptoms or make their effects worse. Work-related stress and mental health problems often go together, and the symptoms can be very similar. If work-related stress reaches a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to separate one from the other.
Common mental health problems and stress can exist independently; people can experience work-related stress and physical changes such as high blood pressure, without having anxiety, depression or other mental health problems. They can also have anxiety and depression without experiencing stress. The key differences between them are their causes and the ways they are treated.
Whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees. Work-related mental health issues must to be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.
Some employees will have a pre-existing physical or mental health condition when recruited or may develop one caused by factors that are not work-related factors.
As an employer, you can help manage and prevent stress by improving conditions at work. But you also have a role in adjusting and helping someone manage a mental health problem at work. By acting to remove or reduce stressors, you can prevent people becoming ill and avoid those with an existing condition becoming less able to control their illness.
If you would like some advice as an employer, visit HSE (Health & Safety Executive). Their website offers a lot of advice and support for employers, including workbooks and guides.
You can also visit The Mental Health Foundation. Their website offers support and guidance for anyone who would like advice with mental health.