Mental Health

42% of Irish adults have a mental health disorder, and more than one in ten have attempted suicide, according to research from Maynooth University, National College of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin (1), highlighting the importance of focusing on mental health in the workplace.

Unfortunately, mental health remains an area that many people do not understand or may fear. As a result, it is not talked about, particularly in the workplace. And yet, one in five people of working age experiences a mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression.

Problems with mental health can occur in any individual, regardless of their job, gender, age, or social background. For some, this may be a mild and temporary experience, while for others it may be more severe or long-term. Importantly, only 1 in 100 people experience the more severe conditions, while the vast majority of problems are often manageable with treatment by a GP or counsellor.

See Change, the national stigma reduction partnership, found that 56% of respondents said they would not want people to know if they were having mental health problems, with 28% delaying seeking treatment due to the fear of others finding out. A further 57% believed that being open about a mental health problem at work would have a negative impact on their job and career prospects, while 47% believed it would affect their relationships with colleagues.

As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognised and untreated — not only damaging an individual’s health and wellbeing, but also reducing productivity at work.

Companies have become more aware of the need to put the right supports in place to promote wellbeing. A 2021 Ibec survey of HR management reported a very high level of support for wellbeing at senior leadership level in their organisations (81%). The findings of the survey also show that 44% of organisations have explicitly called out wellbeing in their overall business strategy in 2021 (2).

Early and consistent efforts by employers to acknowledge and support their employees can go a long way towards building a culture that is conducive to a healthy workplace. This is in everyone’s interest.

Language and Terminology

  • Mental health: a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community
  • Mental disorder: is characterised by a clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotional regulation, or behaviour. It is usually associated with distress or impairment in important areas of functioning. There are many different types of mental disorders.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everybody experiences anxious symptoms occasionally. For instance, you might experience anxiety and worry before an exam, or a job interview. Feeling worried in such circumstances can be very normal. Some people, though, struggle to control their fears. Their anxiety is more pervasive and frequently interferes with their regular activities.
  • Corporate wellbeing: corporate well-being can be described as having a safe, healthy, and happy workplace. The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing in its broadest sense as "an optimal state of health,"
  • Work-related stress: According to the HSA, work-related stress (WRS) is stress caused by or made worse by work. It simply refers to when a person perceives the work environment in such a way that his or her reaction involves feelings of an inability to cope. It may be caused by perceived or real pressures, deadlines, threats, or anxieties within the working environment.
  • Burn-out: Poorly managed work-related stress can lead to burnout. Burnout can manifest as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion, a reduced sense of accomplishment, feelings of negativity or cynicism, or even a loss of personal identity

Key Considerations

If you offer mental health support, such as Employee Assistance Programmes you should sign post to this frequently. Accessing your support should be an easy process. Ensure everyone knows not just the number to call but what to expect on that call, reiterate the confidentiality, and how often they can access your service.

Some organisations develop a document outlining what to expect when accessing their EAP support, such as:

  • Name of their provider
  • The confidentiality of the service
  • The questions you will need to answer when you call
  • A brief insight into the initial assessment process

Line managers are a vital asset in supporting those reporting to them. Train your managers to have conversations around mental health, spot warning signs, and manage the stress of their teams effectively. Our line managers' guide to mental health also offers practical advice and guidance.

Promote mental health awareness campaigns, you can also bring in speakers or offer online events on mental health. This will help reduce the stigma around mental health issues.

Offer companywide mental health training. Struggling with mental health can impact anyone at any stage of their career, so ensuring that people have the relevant skills will help them when they need it. It will also support colleagues in their conversations with each other as the situation arises.

Managing work load, focusing on output over hours, and ensuring you have strong performance management processes in place will support your work-life balance. You should make sure that people can complete their tasks during working hours and then disconnect from work afterward.

You might be interested in our employment law department's guidance on the right to disconnect or performance management.