Mental health and wellbeing at work

By Andrew O'Hara

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) informs the basis of how organisations manage health, safety and wellbeing at work. ISO 45001 builds on this to help organisations proactively manage risk in order to prevent work-related injury and illness. When we think of health and safety at workwe tend to think about things like first aid, manual handling and DSE requirements, but what about mental health? Looking after mental health and employee wellbeing is just as important, as poor mental health can negatively impact not just productivity but all aspects of someone’s day-to-day life.  

Why mental health should be prioritised 

Mental health encompasses our thoughts, feelings and how we cope with and address both good and bad situations. We all experience difficult moments in life and it’s normal to feel distress in response to this. However, when these feelings persist or if stress is becoming normal for you, this might be a sign of a deeper problem.  

A report published by the Mental Health Foundation states that: “The value added to the economy by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225 billion per year, which represents 12.1% of the UK's total GDP.” [1] Their research found that one in six people in England are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition in an average week. Unfortunately, it is also the case that over 6,000 people take their own lives in the UK every year 

These numbers are significant and highlight how common mental health problems are. The key issue in workplace mental health identified in the report cited above is disclosure or, more accurately, a lack of it. Fear of discrimination is the most common reason for employees feeling unable to, or uncomfortable in disclosing mental health difficulties to their employer. While mental health is more openly talked about now than ever before, with events like Mental Health Awareness week and social campaigns such as “It’s okay not to be okay” by See Me Scotland, there is still a stigma attached to it.  

The act of disclosure might feel even harder when experiencing the symptoms of mental health conditions, for example, depression and anxiety, which commonly cause despairing and anxious thoughts. By not feeling able to disclose these at an early stage, this often results in the problem not being detected until it becomes unmanageable 

The warning signs 

It’s not always easy to detect a change in your mental health. Feeling overwhelmed or like things are getting on top of you is a common indicator, particularly of stress and anxiety. Feeling tired, struggling to focus, and avoiding social interaction are also key warning signs that may lead to procrastination at work or slips in time management. These are also things colleagues might notice about each other. Encouraging them to check in and asking the question “Are you okay?” can make a difference, allowing people who are experiencing issues with mental health to feel heard and like they are in a safe space to voice problems or concerns. 

Health and Safety Expo 2020 

Mental wellbeing in the workplace is just one of the topics discussed as part of the virtual Health and Safety Expo this year. We’ve moved our scheduled Quality, Health, Safety & Environmental (QHSE) event presence online which introduces our quality management software and how it can help support a proactive approach to workplace health, safety and wellbeing. We also take you step by step through ISO 45001 and how you can meet the various clauses.  

Join us online and learn how you can improve the management of wellbeing at work as part of your commitment to achieving ISO 45001 accreditation.  


[1] Mental Health Foundation, ‘Added value: mental health as a workplace asset’: 

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