While we’re all familiar with colleagues taking sick days for a bout of food poisoning or the flu, it is far less common to hear people talking about the mental health problems keeping them away from the office.
But this doesn’t mean they aren’t needed.
Head of Workplace Wellbeing at charity Mind, Emma Mamo, told The Huffington Post UK said: “We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and how we feel can vary from good mental wellbeing to difficult feelings and emotions, to severe mental health problems.”
So what do you need to know if you’re trying to broach the topic with someone in a professional capacity? We’ve spoken to the experts to find out.
1. What does the law say about taking mental health days?
Under the Equality Act  employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for any employee who has a ‘disability’. According to the UK government website, a mental health condition is classed as a disability if it has a long-term (likely to last 12 months) effect on your normal day-to-day activity. This “normal day-to-day activity” is defined as something you do regularly, this includes using a computer or interacting with people.
2. So, what am I entitled to at work?
Mamo said: “Such adjustments vary from workplace to workplace, but typically you might be offered a change of working hours – start time, finish times, breaks, a change of working environment, more regular catch ups with your manager to discuss workloads, priorities and stress and anxiety levels.”
3. Should I tell my employer about my mental health?
It can seem a difficult prospect, regardless of your relationship with your boss, and there is no need to do this if you don’t want to, but if you want to take time off, or just change the way you are working in the office, you will probably need to take this step at some point.
Mamo said: “Deciding whether or not to tell your employer and colleagues if you’re experiencing a mental health problem can be daunting. Some people say being able to talk openly with their employer has really helped them. Others may not agree.”
4. How do I talk to my employer about my mental health?
Once you’ve made the decision to talk to your boss about how you’re feeling, you will want to do it in a discreet and professional way.
Mamo advises: “It depends on the relationship you have with your manager, but if you have a good relationship and trust them, then you could meet them one-to-one to discuss what’s going on.”
5. Do HR need to be in the meeting?
“Having someone from HR present will make the meeting more formal, and normally wouldn’t be necessary in the first instance. But if you didn’t get anywhere with the first meeting then it might be a sensible next step,” says Mamo.
6. What can my employer do to help after that?
Once you have told your employer, they will be able to make small changes to your day-to-day routine, and work with you to accommodate your mental health needs, Mamo said: “It’s important for all employers to create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about stress and mental health at work and to encourage a clear work/life balance as much as possible.
“It’s also in employers’ interests to take steps to support the mental health of their staff, as those that do will find they’re rewarded in terms of more productive, happy staff who are less likely to need time off sick.”
7. Can I take time off from work?
Mamo said: “Taking time off related to stress or mental health problems should be treated exactly the same as those who take time off for a physical health problem, such as back or neck pain.”
8. Can I stay in the office?
Not everyone wants to take time off work after speaking to their employer about mental health issues.
“Simple, inexpensive measures such as offering regular catch ups with managers, flexible working hours and Employee Assistance Programmes (confidential phone support) can all make a huge difference to staff wellbeing,” Mamo said.
UK charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) also recommends doing the following if you want to keep working but are finding it difficult to cope:
* Take breaks at work. Don’t stay glued to the job – take a few minutes to sit back and relax, or take a walk during your break.
* Try a relaxation exercise: breathe in for six seconds, hold the breath for five seconds, breathe out for seven seconds.
* Chat to your family and friends. Make time to see your mates to unwind outside of work and get your problems off your chest.
* Eat healthily and make sure to take a break from work to do so.
* Get regular exercise – it increases serotonin and endorphins which improve our mood and release stress.
* Make time for things you enjoy that have nothing to do with work, such as walking, dancing, reading, yoga, comedy. Build your resources and do them regularly.
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