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Mental Health Awareness Week- Mental Health in the Workplace

15 May 2019

Harriet Gardner

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As you may be aware, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The purpose of Mental Health Week is to raise awareness of mental health and to reduce the stigma associated with it.

Mental health problems affect people emotionally and cognitively but can also impact a person’s physical health.

Mental health problems can affect anyone, any day of the year, and your employer should always be on hand to provide help and support for anyone that needs it. This week especially is a great time to have a chat with a friend, family member or colleague and have think about your own wellbeing too.

Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. However, if you go through a period of poor mental health you might find the ways you're frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible to cope with. This can feel mentally overwhelming and some may even feel like taking their own life as a result.

How many people suffer from Mental Health Issues?

According to the Mental Health Charity Mind- Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. The difficulties range from the more common problems, such as depression and anxiety, to rarer problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Experiencing a mental health problem is often upsetting, confusing and frightening – particularly at first. If you become unwell, you may feel that it's a sign of weakness, or that you are 'losing your mind'.

These fears are often reinforced by the negative (and often unrealistic) way that people experiencing mental health problems are shown on TV, in films and by the media. This may stop you from talking about your problems, or seeking help. This, in turn, is likely to increase your distress and sense of isolation.

However, in reality, mental health problems are a common human experience.

Most people know someone who has experienced a mental health problem. They can happen to all kinds of people from all walks of life. And it's likely that, when you find a combination of self-caretreatment and support that works for you, you will get better.

What does the law say?

The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals with a ‘protected characteristic’ from discrimination and this includes people with a mental health problem. To bring a discrimination claim, it must first be proved that the individual’s condition is serious amount to amount ‘a disability’ as defined in the Equality Act. A person is classed as having a disability for this purpose if:

  • They have a physical or mental impairment;
  • That impairment has, or is likely to last, for more than 12 months; and
  • If the impairment has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal day to day activities. 

In this context ‘substantial’ means more than minor to trivial. If a mental health condition does meet the above criteria, the condition is likely to be classed as a disability and the individual can challenge detrimental or less favourable treatment as disability discrimination. Discrimination can happen in the workplace in different ways:

Direct discrimination is if someone has been treated less favourably than someone without a disability because they have a disability.

Indirect discrimination is if a policy, rule or way of doing something puts someone with a disability at a disadvantage when compared with those who do not have a disability.

Discrimination arising from a disability is if someone with a disability is treated unfairly for a reason connected to their disability.

Harassment is when someone is treated in a way that violates their dignity, is unwanted or if it creates a hostile, intimidating, degrading or humiliating environment because of having a disability. This can include sexual harassment.

Victimisation is if someone is treated unfairly because they have complained about discrimination or have made an allegation relating to the Equality Act 2010.

It is also the employer’s responsibility to consider whether reasonable adjustments can be made to support employees who are at a disadvantage compared to other people who do not have a disability. The adjustments must be reasonable for the employer to make such as the employer’s resources, finances and how practical the change is will all be key considerations. Changes do not have to be expensive and can be as simple as changing an employee’s working hours or providing a specific office chair. If the employer does not consider any reasonably adjustments, the individual may be able to pursue the employer for a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, please call our specialist employment team on 0114 242 1884 or attend one of our drop-in sessions.