Mental health at work (2023)

Work can protect mental health

Almost 60% of the world population is in work (1). All workers have the right to a safe and healthy environment at work. Decent work supports good mental health by providing:

  • a livelihood;
  • a sense of confidence, purpose and achievement;
  • an opportunity for positive relationships and inclusion in a community; and
  • a platform for structured routines, among many other benefits.

For people with mental health conditions, decent work can contribute to recovery and inclusion, improve confidence and social functioning.

Safe and healthy working environments are not only a fundamental right but are also more likely to minimize tension and conflicts at work and improve staff retention, work performance and productivity. Conversely, a lack of effective structures and supportat work, especially for those living with mental health conditions, can affect a person’s ability to enjoy their work and do their job well; it can undermine people’s attendance at work and even stop people getting a job in the first place.

Risks to mental health at work

At work, risks to mental health, also called psychosocial risks, may be related to job content or work schedule, specific characteristics of the workplace or opportunities for career development among other things.

(Video) Talking About Mental Health at Work – Can I Speak to Your Manager? | Mark Bailey | TEDxDayton

Risks to mental health at work can include:

  • under-use of skills or being under-skilled for work;
  • excessive workloads or work pace, understaffing;
  • long, unsocial or inflexible hours;
  • lack of control over job design or workload;
  • unsafe or poor physical working conditions;
  • organizational culture that enables negative behaviours;
  • limited support from colleagues or authoritarian supervision;
  • violence, harassment or bullying;
  • discrimination and exclusion;
  • unclear job role;
  • under- or over-promotion;
  • job insecurity, inadequate pay, or poor investment in career development; and
  • conflicting home/work demands.

More than half the global workforce works in the informal economy (2), where there is no regulatory protection for health and safety. These workers often operate in unsafe working environments, work long hours, have little or no access to social or financialprotections and face discrimination, all of which can undermine mental health.

Although psychosocial risks can be found in all sectors, some workers are more likely to be exposed to them than others, because of what they do or where and how they work. Health, humanitarian or emergency workers often have jobs that carry an elevatedrisk of exposure to adverse events, which can negatively impact mental health.

Economic recessions or humanitarian and public health emergencies elicit risks such as job loss, financial instability, reduced employment opportunities or increased unemployment.

(Video) Workplace Mental Health - all you need to know (for now) | Tom Oxley | TEDxNorwichED

Work can be a setting which amplifies wider issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality based on factors such as, race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, social origin, migrant status, religionor age.

People with severe mental health conditions are more likely to be excluded from employment, and when in employment, they are more likely to experience inequality at work. Being out of work also poses a risk to mental health. Unemployment, job and financialinsecurity, and recent job loss are risk factors for suicide attempts.

Action for mental health at work

Government, employers, the organizations which represent workers and employers, and other stakeholders responsible for workers’ health and safety can help to improve mental health at work through action to:

  • prevent work-related mental health conditions by preventing the risks to mental health at work;
  • protect and promote mental health at work;
  • support workers with mental health conditions to participate and thrive in work; and
  • create an enabling environment for change.

Action to address mental health at work should be done with the meaningful involvement of workers and their representatives, and persons with lived experience of mental health conditions.

(Video) Your Mental Health at Work

Prevent work-related mental health conditions

Preventing mental health conditions at work is about managing psychosocial risks in the workplace. WHO recommends employers do this by implementing organizational interventions that directly target working conditions and environments. Organizational interventionsare those that assess, and then mitigate, modify or remove workplace risks to mental health. Organizational interventions include, for example, providing flexible working arrangements, or implementing frameworks to deal with violence and harassmentat work.

Protect and promote mental health at work

Protecting and promoting mental health at work is about strengthening capacities to recognize and act on mental health conditions at work, particularly for persons responsible for the supervision of others, such as managers.

To protect mental health, WHO recommends:

  • manager training for mental health, which helps managers recognize and respond to supervisees experiencing emotional distress; builds interpersonal skills like open communication and active listening; and fosters better understandingof how job stressors affect mental health and can be managed;
  • training for workers in mental health literacy and awareness, to improve knowledge of mental health and reduce stigma against mental health conditions at work; and
  • interventions for individuals to build skills to manage stress and reduce mental health symptoms, including psychosocial interventions and opportunities for leisure-based physical activity.

Support people with mental health conditions to participate in and thrive at work

People living with mental health conditions have a right to participate in work fully and fairly. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides an international agreement for promoting the rights of people with disabilities (includingpsychosocial disabilities), including at work. WHO recommends three interventions to support people with mental health conditions gain, sustain and participate in work:

(Video) Mental health and work

  • Reasonable accommodations at work adapt working environments to the capacities, needs and preferences of a worker with a mental health condition. They may include giving individual workers flexible working hours, extra time to completetasks, modified assignments to reduce stress, time off for health appointments or regular supportive meetings with supervisors.
  • Return-to-work programmes combine work-directed care (like reasonable accommodations or phased re-entry to work) with ongoing clinical care to support workers in meaningfully returning to work after an absence associated with mentalhealth conditions, while also reducing mental health symptoms.
  • Supported employment initiatives help people with severe mental health conditions to get into paid work and maintain their time on work through continue to provide mental health and vocational support.

Create an enabling environment for change

Both governments and employers, in consultation with key stakeholders, can help improve mental health at work by creating an enabling environment for change. In practice this means strengthening:

  • Leadership and commitment to mental health at work, for example by integrating mental health at work into relevant policies.
  • Investment of sufficient funds and resources, for example by establishing dedicated budgets for actions to improve mental health at work and making mental health and employment services available to lower-resourced enterprises.
  • Rights to participate in work, for example by aligning employment laws and regulations with international human rights instruments and implementing non-discrimination policies at work.
  • Integration of mental health at work across sectors, for example by embedding mental health into existing systems for occupational safety and health.
  • Participation of workers in decision-making, for example by holding meaningful and timely consultations with workers, their representatives and people with lived experience of mental health conditions.
  • Evidence on psychosocial risks and effectiveness of interventions, for example by ensuring that all guidance and action on mental health at work is based on the latest evidence.
  • Compliance with laws, regulations and recommendations, for example by integrating mental health into the responsibilities of national labour inspectorates and other compliance mechanisms.

WHO response

WHO is committed to improving mental health at work. The WHO global strategy on health, environment and climate change and WHO Comprehensive mental health action plan (2013–2030)outline relevant principles, objectives and implementation strategies to enable good mental health in the workplace. These include addressing social determinants of mental health, such as living standards and working conditions; reducing stigma and discrimination;and increasing access to evidence-based care through health service development, including access to occupational health services. In 2022, WHO’s World mental health report: transforming mental health for all,highlighted the workplace as a key example of a setting where transformative action on mental health is needed.

The WHO guidelines on mental health at work provide evidence-based recommendations to promote mental health, prevent mental health conditions, and enable people living with mental health conditions to participate and thrive in work. The recommendations cover organizational interventions, managertraining and worker training, individual interventions, return to work, and gaining employment. The accompanying policy brief by WHO and the International Labour Organization, Mental health at work: policy brief provides a pragmatic framework for implementing the WHO recommendations. It specifically sets out what governments, employers, organizations representing employers and workers, and other stakeholders can do to improve mental health at work.

  1. World employment and social outlook - Trends 2022. Geneva: International Labour Organization; 2022 (,accessed 26 August 2022)
  2. Women and men in the informal economy: a statistical picture. Geneva: International Labour Organization; 2018 (,accessed 26 August 2022).


What can I say about my mental health at work? ›

Be clear about the impact your mental health challenges are having at work. If the cause is work-related, share that also. As much as possible, come with suggestions for how your manager or HR can help you. Have ideas about what changes or resources you'd find beneficial.

How do I say I need a mental health day at work? ›

“Recently I've been having a hard time with my [condition] and am going to take a sick day today to try and rest up. I'll be back tomorrow.” “I'm feeling burnt out, and am planning to take a sick day today to take care of my mental health. I'll be back in the office tomorrow, thank you for understanding.”

How do you say not feeling well mentally professionally? ›

I really care about my job performance, and taking a day off to relax and recharge would mean a lot to me.” “I've felt overwhelmed lately, so I would like to ask whether you mind if I take a mental health day. I'm pretty much sure it'll help me to be more productive and efficient in the future.”

How do you tell your boss you're struggling mentally sample? ›

Talking about your mental health doesn't need to be scary or over-complicated, you can start the conversation by simply saying, “I need to get something off my chest” or “I need to talk, do you have time to listen?” Just remember to tell your boss only what is necessary.

Should I tell my boss I'm struggling mentally? ›

While you don't have to talk about topics that feel too personal, you can always assure your manager that you have resources in place to support you outside of work (if this is true). That way, they understand that it's not their job to be your counselor or therapist.

How much should I tell my boss about my mental health? ›

Rights and responsibilities. Remember, you're not legally required to tell your employer about your mental health condition, unless there's a risk to yourself or others.

Is a mental health day a good excuse to miss work? ›

Calling in sick for mental health reasons is perfectly valid. A sick day can give you time to practice self-care, allowing you to return to your day-to-day life feeling calmer and refreshed. Not all employers may see it this way as stigma against mental illness is still rife.

Is mental health day a valid excuse? ›

California is among twelve states that now allow students to take “mental health days” as excused absences, as reported by Today. While some adults worry that teens will abuse the policy, mental health experts are encouraged by the step forward and stress that the benefits outweigh the risk of misuse. Dr.

How do I tell my boss I am taking mental health day? ›

How to Request a Mental Health Day
  1. Plan What You're Going To Say. It seems like an obvious tip, but in the moment, if you're nervous about what you're asking for, any preparation you've done will come in clutch. ...
  2. Keep It Simple. ...
  3. Ask in Advance. ...
  4. Don't Explain Yourself.
Sep 24, 2022

How do you tell your boss you're struggling with work? ›

“Say, 'I appreciate your trust and support. I'm trying hard, but I am still struggling,'” he says. If you “establish your good intentions,” hopefully your boss can support you in identifying and transitioning to a more suitable role.

When your boss affects your mental health? ›

Other studies show that people with bad bosses are more susceptible to chronic depression, stress and anxiety, all of which increase the risk of a lowered immune system. Some research even indicates that it takes people 22 months to restore their stress levels to a healthy range after working for a bad manager.

How do I explain depression to my boss? ›

How Should You Do It?
  1. Decide whether you are more comfortable talking to your boss or a Human Resources manager.
  2. Ask to have a private conversation and candidly discuss your depression.
  3. Bring up the ways it is impacting your work and solutions you think might help, or ask for ideas for going forward.
Mar 4, 2022

Do employers have a duty of care mental health? ›

Employers have a 'duty of care'. This means you must do all you reasonably can to support the mental health, safety and wellbeing of your employees. This includes: making sure the work environment is safe.

What do you do when you are struggling mentally at work? ›

When you're feeling like this, here are some tips to try.
  1. Reach out to a friendly colleague. ...
  2. Do two hours of focused work. ...
  3. Take a mental health day. ...
  4. Learn something. ...
  5. Brighten up your workspace.
Sep 28, 2020

Can you talk to HR about mental health? ›

As with all things, you only need to disclose what you feel comfortable talking about. Addressing mental health with your employer can have positive outcomes and can enable them to support you. In the long run, it can improve how you feel about work and empower you to seek help when needed.

Should you tell HR about depression? ›

You aren't obligated to disclose your struggles with depression in an interview. In fact, I would recommend against it. Instead, focus on the job, why you are a good fit for the position and your value to the organization.

Can your boss question your mental health? ›

Under California law, mental disabilities include mental and psychological disorders or conditions, emotional illnesses, and intellectual learning disabilities. If you are showing signs of mental illness at work, your employer generally cannot ask you about it.

Should I tell HR about my anxiety? ›

You cannot be required to disclose a mental health condition unless you are requesting a job accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who disclose physical and mental health conditions.

Do I tell my boss I have panic attacks? ›

You don't need to share with your boss or HR that you get panic attacks. However, if you choose to disclose your panic disorder, remember that you get to decide how much you want to share.

Can you be fired for having a mental breakdown? ›

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you simply because you have a mental health condition. This includes firing you, rejecting you for a job or promotion, or forcing you to take leave.

Can a job fire you for taking a mental day? ›

Laura Handrick from Choosing Therapy explains, “If your employer has 50 or more employees or you're under federal contract, you are protected by federal labor and anti-discrimination laws that prevent your employer from penalizing you for taking time off for a mental health.” Depending on your workplace, asking for a ...

Is it okay to miss work because of anxiety? ›

Treat it like any other sick day

One of the things that can hold people back from taking time off to care for their mental health is the perception that stress, feeling run down, sadness or anxiety aren't good enough reasons to take time off. It's best to quickly dismiss that idea.

Is anxiety a reason to call in sick? ›

Anxiety, stress, or depression leave from work may require multiple days off, which is where FMLA may come in handy. This may be enough time to seek more intensive treatment if needed or time to relax and seek support. However, if you are thinking “can I get a sick note for anxiety”, the answer is yes.

How do you ask for time off due to mental health? ›

Go to your Human Resources department and let them know you would like to take an FMLA-approved absence for stress leave. They will provide you with the necessary paperwork that you must take to your doctor.

What do you say when calling in sick for mental health? ›

If you want to call in sick to your job for mental health reasons, here's an example of what you might say: "I've been having some challenges recently with my mental health, so I am going to take a personal day to help me recuperate. Thank you for understanding and I look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow."

What should you not tell your boss? ›

Unless the company is closing down soon and you have the management's blessing to be on the look, never talk about your intentions of leaving the company with your boss. It is hard to work with someone that is unsettled. As dissatisfied as you are with the current job, never make known your intentions to leave.

Is it OK to tell your boss you're overwhelmed? ›

Your boss likely has lots of things competing for their attention, so they may not be aware that you're struggling unless you speak up. And while it may be intimidating to start the conversation, a lot of good can come from leveling with your supervisor and being honest about the challenges you face in your role.

How do you tell your boss your workload is overwhelming? ›

Instead, offer specifics like, “I'm feeling overwhelmed by the volume of projects on my plate,” or “I'm feeling really anxious about meeting all of these deadlines, but they've never bothered me before.” Helping your boss see what's changed for you is important.

What is considered mental abuse in the workplace? ›

Types of Mental Abuse

More overt examples of mental abuse include angry rants, screaming or swearing at the employee in front of others, sabotaging work, stealing the credit for work the victim performed or making rude, belittling comments about a co-worker.

What is mental abuse from a boss? ›

By : emarban Dec 31, 2018 Comments Off. Emotional abuse is a form of workplace harassment, which is commonly defined as belittling or threatening behavior towards an individual worker or a group of workers. Harassment and emotional abuse on the workplace cover a wide range of conducts of an offensive nature.

How do you tell your boss they are stressing you out? ›

Keep your statements neutral and professional. Avoid personal attacks or emotional statements. Try using your boss's criticisms as a way to gain some common ground. Ask them what they would like you to improve or how the two of you can solve some of their concerns together.

What are 3 workplace signs that an employee might be suffering from depression? ›

What You Might See in the Workplace
  • Persistent sad and empty mood.
  • Communicating a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, pessimism.
  • Uncharacteristic drop in productivity or increase in absences.
  • Signs of substance misuse.
  • Fatigue; loss of interest in ordinary activities.

What should employers do to address mental health in the workplace? ›

Ways your company can support employee mental health
  • Understand how mental health impacts your employees. ...
  • Include mental health coverage as part of your health care plan. ...
  • Establish an employee assistance program (EAP). ...
  • Use communication to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health resources. ...
  • Promote well-being.

How do you fight mental fatigue at work? ›

How to Prevent Mental Exhaustion
  1. Limit Low-Yield Activities. Be ruthless about how you spend your time. ...
  2. Try the Timebox Technique. ...
  3. Get Rid of Unnecessary Distractions. ...
  4. Give Your Eyes a Break. ...
  5. Reduce Mental Fatigue with Exercise. ...
  6. Take Time Off. ...
  7. Get More Sleep.
Jul 4, 2022

What is an employer's obligation to an employee with a mental illness? ›

Support to stay at work - if you are experiencing or recovering from mental ill-health, your employer must assist you to continue to do your job by making reasonable changes to 'recover at work', such as flexible working arrangements or a change of work responsibilities.

What can I write about my mental health? ›

Writing about mental health: The do's
  • Do start with a goal for your mental health content. ...
  • Do use credible sources. ...
  • Do include details on how to get in touch with professional help. ...
  • Don't limit people's identities to their mental health. ...
  • Don't turn people into victims. ...
  • Don't use derogatory phrases.
Dec 1, 2021

How can I describe my mental health? ›

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.

Can you write about mental health in personal statement? ›

Personal circumstances

For example, this might be something that caused you to miss school - such as a physical or mental health condition, or caring for a family member. If your personal circumstances have affected your qualification choices, you can mention this in your personal statement.

What is a good sentence for mental health? ›

He feared for her mental health. Don't overlook mental health. All of a sudden their careers and mental health start to crumble. She worked her way up, qualifying in midwifery, then completing a diploma in mental health.

What are 5 words that describe mental health? ›

  • wellbeing.
  • eudemonia.
  • fitness.
  • wholeness.
  • robustness.
  • shape.
  • strength.
  • verdure.

Can you be fired for missing work due to mental illness? ›

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you simply because you have a mental health condition. This includes firing you, rejecting you for a job or promotion, or forcing you to take leave.

What are 5 positive mental health traits? ›

meaning and purpose: feeling your life is valuable and worthwhile. a sense of accomplishment: doing things that give you a sense of achievement or competence. emotional stability: feeling calm and able to manage emotions. resilience: the ability to cope with the stresses of daily life.

How do I say I have a mental illness? ›

Rather than describe the person as being a disease ('Rhys is schizophrenic' or 'Margot is a depressive'), describe the person as experiencing/having mental illness (e.g. 'Margot has depression') just as you would someone with any other form of illness/injury (e.g. 'Doug has cancer').

What should you not say in mental health? ›

Avoid using words that label others, like

If a person is struggling, they might fear being judged by others. Using these labels can make their target feel even worse. Don't speculate about whether someone has a mental health disorder and what their diagnosis might be.

What should you not say in a personal statement? ›

The ten biggest mistakes when writing your personal statement
  • Telling a story. ...
  • Repeating information already contained in your application. ...
  • Spending too long discussing personal issues. ...
  • Making simple grammatical errors. ...
  • Failing to demonstrate capability of university-level study. ...
  • Using clichés.
Sep 15, 2022

What phrases to avoid in a personal statement? ›

Here are just some overused phrases to avoid using in your personal statement:
  • From a young age…
  • For as long as I can remember…
  • I am applying for this course because…
  • I have always been interested in…
  • Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…


1. Returning from a Mental Health Leave
(Psych Hub)
2. What is Mental Health?
(NYU School of Global Public Health)
3. WHO: Mental health in the workplace – Q & A (Questions and Answers)
(World Health Organization (WHO))
4. Mental Health Wellness Tips
(Psych Hub)
5. Supporting Individuals with Serious Mental Illness in the Workplace
6. Mental Health and COVID-19: Returning to Work, Managing Loneliness and Finding Helpful Apps
(UC Davis Health)
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