The death of Robin Williams this week has highlighted the issues of mental health and its devasting effects. Mental health in the workplace is often a difficult subject to deal with as it can be misunderstood. Mental health issues can include depression, anxiety and bi polar disease to name but a few conditions. Employees with mental health issues may appear troublesome and managing them can be difficult to their behaviour which can include being disruptive, turning up for work late or not showing up at all.
Mental health is surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and fear. People with mental health have many problems may include:
- People become isolated
- They are excluded from everyday activities
- It is harder to get or keep a job
- People can be reluctant to seek help, which makes recovery slower and more difficult
- Their physical health is affected
One in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives and one in ten young people. We shall probably work with someone experiencing mental health and those who have mental health issues fear the reaction about discussing their problems.
There are many myths about mental health issues:
- Mental health problems are very rare.
- People with mental illness aren’t able to work.
- Young people just go through ups and downs as part of puberty, it’s nothing.
- People with mental health illnesses are usually violent and unpredictable
- It’s easy for young people to talk to friends about their feelings.
People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others: 90% of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress. Substance abuse appears to play a role: The prevalence of violence is higher among people who have symptoms of substance abuse (discharged psychiatric patients and non-patients).
It makes good business sense to support employees with mental health issues. The Equality Act 2010 protects employees with mental health issues and they are protected against disability discrimination.
Where an employee’s mental health is impacting on their job role an employer should seek occupational health advice to establish if they are fit for work and if there are any reasonable adjustments that could be made to enable them to remain the workplace. It is essential to seek such advice particularly if dismissal is being considered.
An employer needs to demonstrate they have taken into account the following which was set out in case law Lynock v Cereal Packaging Ltd  IRLR 511,:
the nature of the illness
the likelihood of it recurring or of some other illness arising
the length of the various absences and the periods between them
the need for the employer to have the work done
the impact of the absences on other employees
the importance of a personal assessment of the situation
the importance of consultation with the employee
the importance of appropriate warnings of dismissal if there is no noticeable improvement.