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Mental health problems

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

Almost half of all long-term sickness is due to mental health problems. These impact more heavily on your ability to work than any other illness. However, with the right support, people with mental health problems can thrive in the workplace and enjoy the same opportunities as their colleagues.

Stigma of mental health

Although it is improving, there is still a stigma around mental health problems. Many people with mental health issues still feel discriminated against because of their illness, which can make them feel worse and make it harder to recover.

This social stigma is a concern for people off work with a mental health problem. Fear of bullying or social exclusion can delay their return or even prevent them returning at all.

More about mental health stigma and discrimination can be found through the Mental Health Foundation.

Absence due to mental health problems

Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They range from the minor (low mood) to the severe (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or psychosis) and can appear suddenly or gradually over time.

Most work absences involving mental health problems are due to:

  • stress;
  • anxiety;
  • depression.

The causes of these vary, but problems at home with relationships or your finances can affect your mood just as much as the tasks you have to do, your working environment and relationships with colleagues.

Dealing with stress at work

Managing stress in the workplace is important to your overall health. Some pressure at work can be motivating, but when it becomes excessive, it can eventually lead to work-related stress. Other causes of work-related stress include:

  • job uncertainties;
  • work relationship problems;
  • managing change;
  • poor support;
  • demands — either too much or too little;
  • lack of control.

If you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope, spotting the early signs of work-related stress can help you take steps to prevent it becoming a problem.

Early signs of stress include:

  • changes to your normal behaviour — such as eating and sleep habits;
  • feeling depressed or down and becoming increasingly emotional;
  • becoming withdrawn, nervous and demotivated;
  • feeling confused and disappointed with yourself.

It’s important that you speak out about how you’re feeling. Talking to your employer and colleagues openly about your feelings can help to tackle the causes and prevent you feeling isolated and out-of-control.


Having high levels of anxiety can have a major impact on your ability to work. Anxiety takes many forms – from general anxiety to anxiety triggered by a particular situation (a phobia).

Those experiencing anxiety may seem unusually worried or fearful in most situations, making excuses to not to socialise or attend meetings are common signs.

Other signs of anxiety include:

  • panic attacks;
  • restlessness and becoming increasingly irritable;
  • difficulty concentrating or meeting deadlines;
  • a sense of dread and fear.

Facing up to anxiety, and how it makes you feel, can be the first step in breaking the cycle of fear and insecurity. Feeling relaxed and able to talk about your anxieties to friends, family and colleagues can help you to take back control and deal with your anxiety before it becomes unmanageable.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are a sign of anxiety and are common in the workplace, causing an overwhelming sense of fear and apprehension. Left unmanaged, panic attacks can become more frequent and severe leaving you unable to work.

Panic attacks can be treated effectively through a combination of therapy and medication. There are also several self-help techniques you can use to treat the symptoms yourself.


Feeling sad from time to time is normal, but if these feelings continue for more than a couple of weeks, or are so bad that they affect your everyday life, you may need help.

Depression can develop slowly and is usually caused by more than one thing, with work a contributing factor due to:

  • workload;
  • unsociable hours;
  • lack of job security;
  • problems with colleagues.

If you are depressed, you might:

  • feel irritable or overly emotional;
  • have low confidence and find it difficult to concentrate;
  • lose interest in, and be unable to deliver, your work;
  • get tired quickly and feel disengaged.

If you’re feeling depressed, sometimes it can be better to take time off work to recover rather than make yourself feel worse by struggling on when you’re actually too ill to work.

If you feel well enough to remain in work, talk to your line manager, or someone you trust, about how you are feeling. Having support around you can help to lift your mood when you are feeling low.

Mental health support

A number of organisations offer mental health advice and support across England and Wales, including:

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