This year’s official theme is ‘loneliness’ with a focus on building meaningful connections with friends, family and colleagues. The chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Mark Rowland, stated: “Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic.”

Businesses, organisations and charities across the UK will be marking the week in their own ways, both public and private. Birmingham’s famous Bullring Bull statue will be covered by a box signposting ways in which people can find support for their mental health and reportedly in a bid to use “no bull” when talking about mental health.

The workplace is a key arena and focus for many charities and organisations working to improve the life and wellbeing of those living with mental health conditions. The theme of loneliness seems quite timely given the last two years with millions still working remotely following the pandemic.

In December 2021, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published statistics on work-related stress, anxiety and depression in Great Britain for 12 months ending March 2021 during which we saw the greatest restrictions on freedoms in the fight against COVID-19. The HSE found that 822,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, anxiety and depression (both new and long-standing conditions) which marked a significant increase from the previous year. Of these 822,000 people, an estimated 54% reported that this was caused or made worse by the effects of the pandemic. The public sector was particularly affected which is unsurprising given the pressures they faced. The HSE concluded that stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases.

From an employment law perspective, employers have an ongoing duty to protect the health and wellbeing of their workers including mental health and it’s incumbent on them to implement appropriate policies, training and behaviours that serve to safeguard and promote good mental health of all staff. Stress, anxiety and depression are amongst the most common mental health complaints made by employees at work.

It’s not always obvious how employers should act if they are told or suspect that someone is struggling, or how to manage a performance related issue against this background. Generally speaking this may require a referral to an occupational health specialist, behavioural psychologist and/or psychiatrist with the employee’s consent. Following a consultation the specialist will produce a report setting out their findings, diagnosis and prognosis, including whether the condition qualifies as a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. Invariably reasonable adjustments are recommended to facilitate a safe return to work, in conjunction with any other prescribed treatment or medication where appropriate.