With one in four people likely to suffer a mental health problem in their lifetime, it’s never been more important to know about disclosing a mental health issue when you live with a diagnosis that affects you day-to-day.
Whether you’re job hunting and worried about discrimination, or you’re employed but struggling to cope, this is what you need to know about mental health in the workplace and the ins and outs of disclosure.
Disclosing a Mental Health Issue: Guidance from British Law
The Equality Act (2010) protects you from discrimination for nine characteristics, including age, race and sex. Disability is another characteristic, but many people don’t realise ongoing mental health problems that significantly affect your day-to-day life actually count as a disability. This means you cannot be discriminated in the workplace for having a mental health problem, unless an employer can prove a lawful justification for their actions – for example, if other workers’ health and safety is at risk.
The exact wording from the Equality Act refers to ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. In the case of mental health, this would mean a condition that’s affected you (or likely to affect you) for 12 months, either ongoing or recurring. It also applies to conditions that affected you in the past, so you are protected even if you haven’t had an episode of depression, bipolar, or another mental health condition.
Your employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace to help manage your condition; these might include a change to your working hours, having a quiet room to go to when you need some time alone, not needing to ‘hot desk’ (find a desk at random rather than be allocated a set space) or changing some of your responsibilities. Shaw Trust, which helps disadvantaged people into work and training, has some useful online resources and face-to-face employability services.
Support in the Workplace
You may need support from occupational health, which an employer can refer you to, or you might choose to get support outside the workplace. It can be tricky to find talking therapy that fits around your working hours, but do outline any concerns to your therapist and they will try their best to find an appointment time to suit you, perhaps an early morning or evening slot, or a lunchtime session. Depending on your job structure, you may be able to work flexibly around an appointment in working hours, or perhaps work from home on the day of your regular appointment.
It can be more difficult to feel supported in a smaller workplace, where there is no Human Resources department. As an employee within a small team, you may also feel more overstretched and find it harder to speak out about your condition, for fear of increasing other people’s workloads or stress levels. However, all employers must abide by the law, and they still have a duty to make some of those ‘reasonable adjustments’, which will vary according to your needs, where possible.
If your employer can’t afford to make the kind of adjustments needed, you may be entitled to funding from the government’s Access to Work scheme. This might involve help with transport, or access to a support worker. Local and national charities can also offer advice. If you’re in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a list of resources that could help you. Should you be caring for someone with long-term mental health issues, don’t forget you are also protected against discrimination by association. Mind has a useful resource on the types of discrimination here.
Your Right to Privacy When Disclosing a Mental Health Issue
Some people don’t want to disclose their mental health condition and, if it doesn’t put health and safety at risk to non-disclose, you can choose not to inform your employer. However, this may make things harder if you do need to make changes in the workplace down the line.
When you’re applying for most jobs, you don’t need to disclose any health conditions, mental or physical, unless you want to. Certain public-sector jobs, such as being a teacher or a doctor, have different regulations, and you would need to disclose in these cases. It’s also important to inform the DVLA if any medication for mental health issues is affecting your ability to drive, whether or not driving is a necessary part of your job.
The majority of companies should only ask for health disclosures after a job offer has been made, but – aside from exempt professions, such as teaching, mentioned above – you are still not legally bound to reveal your diagnosis. Once you have disclosed, your employer should still respect your privacy, so if you only want your manager and the HR team to know about your diagnosis, it shouldn’t be discussed with other members of staff.
Written by guest contributor Vikram Das for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).