By Sacha Sokhi, Solicitor in the London Employment & Professional Discipline Team
While the UK raises awareness this week of mental health issues, recent figures from the Office of National Statistics has shown that almost one in five adults experienced depression at the start of this year. Worryingly, this figure was double the pre-pandemic level.
The Guardian recently reported that the most dramatic mental health decline was found in those who had lost their jobs amidst lockdown. The Guardian’s research also showed that ethnic minorities were disproportionality affected as a result. Many unions and groups have called on the Government to do more to protect these vulnerable workers.
Those who remain in work continue to struggle through pre-existing or new illnesses, with 53% reporting last year that they felt a lack of mental health support from their employer during the first lockdown. Working from home has led many people to work unusual hours and in new, often unsuitable, environments. For many, the longevity of the pandemic has meant that they were ill-prepared to work in these unsustainable conditions for over a year.
As employment lawyers acting for individuals, we know too well that many employers often overlook the effect on their employees’ mental health or fail to spot the signs. Employees with mental health issues do not turn up to work sporting a cast or crutches when they are still recovering. Instead of an employer seeing a worker struggling to carry out a physical task, they see a smiling employee in a meeting and assume everything is ok. It is crucial, now more than ever, that employees and workers feel confident that their employer will view any mental health struggles in the workplace as importantly as a physical impairment and that they are given opportunity to discuss any concerns.
As we emerge from the latest lockdown and many look set to return to office working, it is vital that employers do not underestimate the effects of the pandemic on their workforce. The levels of anxiety associated with returning to an office environment may not be apparent. Flexibility and a focus on wellbeing will be a welcomed response from employers to ensure their workers perform well and benefit from a healthy well-balanced lifestyle.
Mental Health Awareness Week should serve as a timely reminder to employees and workers to put their employer on early notice of any difficulties they are facing which is affecting their mental health. This week should also remind employers to provide a safe space to allow these discussions to take place.
If you struggling with mental health issues whilst at work, please do remember the following:
It is important that you let your employer know of any issues, diagnosis or medication you are on and how this may affect your work. Firstly, so that you can get the support you need but also to ensure that you have put your employer on notice in case any issues are brought up at a later date with your performance;
If your employer does not initiate a conversation around your mental health, approach your line manager and ask to have a meeting to discuss how best to tackle any issues. This could include your employer making reasonable adjustments to your workload or when/where you work;
Seek regular medical assistance and advice and keep your employer updated as to your progress. Your employer may want to refer you to Occupational Health, however you should continue to see your own medical professionals alongside this.
Above all, take time to look after your mental health – remember, it’s okay not to be okay.
If you are experiencing any problems at work, then it's never too soon to get help and support with your employment rights - please feel free to contact us in confidence for an initial discussion.
Previously comfortably-off people who suffered sudden and massive drops in household income during the pandemic crisis recorded the sharpest increases in mental illness, according to a major survey. While mental health worsened across all groups during the period, those forced to become newly dependent on universal credit and self-employment grants experienced the most dramatic and ongoing decline in mental wellbeing. Some 42% of this group – called “help-seekers” by researchers – reported being in poor mental health in January, up 13 percentage points compared with before Covid, suggesting they continued to struggle with the overnight loss of work and income.