It's time for a culture change this mental health week

From 9th - 15th May it is Mental Health Week, so there's never been a better time to think about the wellbeing of others. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem each year in England, it's important that discussions continue to open up - especially when it comes to tackling issues relating to mental health at work.

Tackling loneliness

This year's theme for Mental Health Week is loneliness; something that affected many of us during the pandemic, but also something many of us shy away from discussing. We may associate loneliness with older people, but, actually, it is something that can be experienced by anyone at any age, including your friends, your family - and even your colleagues.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 1 in 20 people surveyed in 2020 aged 16 plus, said they felt lonely "often" or "always". This increased between October 2020 and February 2021 to 1 in 14 - equating to 3.7 million people.

A problem shared is a problem halved

Loneliness is not classed as a mental health condition, as such, although the effects of loneliness can have an impact on wellbeing and quality of life. When it comes to the workplace, we need to do all we can to make sure we are all doing our bit to encourage people to talk about how they are feeling.

In December 2021, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that 822,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, anxiety and depression, concluding that stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases. However, most employers probably don’t appreciate the extent of mental health issues with  many employees still nervous about admitting to poor mental well-being

According to mental health training and awareness company, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), 1 in 5 people take a day off due to stress, yet 90% of those people cited a different reason for their absence.

And that's the difficulty with mental health, as opposed to physical health, you often  cannot tell if an employee is struggling. The only way to know for sure is if someone tells you they are suffering from poor mental health. There's that old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved and that's why talking is so important. Employees may be a reluctant to speak up due to concerns that they may face stigma, but  they are protected by the Equality Act 2010, which forbids any discrimination on grounds of poor mental health where it satisfies the definition of a disability. . This might include being treated differently to others or being placed at an unfair disadvantage due to a mental health condition.

Protect your staff, and your business

From a business viewpoint, according to MentalHealth.org, absence due to mental health is costly. It is thought that 12.7% of all sickness days are due to conditions relating to poor mental wellbeing, but better support could save UK businesses up to £8bn per year.

From an employment law perspective, employers have a duty of care to their employees to protect their health and wellbeing - both physically and mentally. That could mean implementing appropriate policies and training, as well as encouraging certain behaviours, to safeguard good mental health. Employers should also be mindful of extra requirements (such as involving occupational health or providing extra support for the employee) when managing a performance-related issue where there may be mental health issues present.

Simple measures like reaching out, starting a conversation, being kind and simply listening are just some of the things you could do this week to help make a difference.

If you’re an employer looking for some advice, or a member of staff concerned about treatment at work, contact the employment team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.


Heather Love

Heather Love

Senior Associate Solicitor

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502967

Office: Dorking

Email: h.love@downslaw.co.uk