World Mental Health Day: addressing mental health with the same care as physical health

10 October 2023 marks World Mental Health Day: a day to create awareness about mental health and show how mental health matters. 

According to a recent CIPD review, mental health issues can affect one in four people at some point in their lives and are a major cause of long-term absence from work. As employers might be considering their approach to promoting good mental health in the workplace and supporting their employees who are experiencing mental ill health, we take a look at the guidance published by ACAS in August 2023, entitled “Supporting mental health at work”. 

The guidance emphasises that employers should address their employees’ mental health with the same care as physical health and suggests a number of ways employers can create an environment in which their employees’ mental health is better supported:

  1. Providing support and creating a supportive culture: workplaces should have open and regularly accessible lines of communication where employees can raise concerns and discuss their mental health with their managers. Employers should also actively encourage positive mental health, such as by appointing mental health “champions”. 
  2. Management style and flexibility: the guidance clarifies the need for management styles to suit the mental health needs of each employee, for example by asking the employee whether they prefer to talk over the phone, via email or video meetings. Managers should arrange a conversation with employees who they suspect to be struggling with poor mental health as soon as possible. The conversations should be confidential, take place in private and be arranged flexibly (particularly regarding time and place). 
  3. Response to concerns and support available: employers should listen carefully to the concerns of employees and try to identify any causes. Managers should be calm, patient and reassuring in any conversations with employees who raise such concerns. Any support available, such as employee assistance programmes or third-party support should be signposted.   
  4. Assessments: employers and managers should look out for possible signs of poor mental health, and to check in on employees regularly. The guidance suggests looking through online channels where employees might share updates and using wellbeing surveys. 
  5. Overarching duty of care: employers have a duty of care towards employees. This extends to managing employees’ mental health at work. The guidance also reiterates the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for someone whose poor mental health is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Previous ACAS guidance from April 2023 deals with this in more detail.

ACAS reminds employers and managers that they are not expected to be experts in mental health and encourages them to seek out assistance from different sources (such as trade union representatives). The guidance lists a variety of such specialist help and support available to both employers and employees.  

Further reading:

ACAS guidanceSupporting mental health at work 
CIPD Review