The Covid pandemic has seen an increase in people struggling with, and seeking help for, mental health conditions.
However, the impact of the pandemic, lockdown and the tightening of restrictions hasn’t been limited to one age group, with young people right through to the elderly feeling the effects of the pandemic on their mental health.
In an update to the Government’s ‘Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan’ on 1 April, the Cabinet Office and Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said they had recognised that “some people’s mental health has taken a harder, longer-lasting hit during the pandemic.”
The joint ministerial statement also added that good mental health and wellbeing can “help each one of us to live fulfilled, productive and healthy lives.”
But for those struggling with mental health issues, either due to the pandemic or otherwise, who need to take time off of work, what employment rights are in place and what support is available?
‘Mental health should be taken just as seriously as a physical injury’
If someone needs to go off work sick due to mental health reasons then Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will be implemented, according to the UK and Ireland's largest independent employee assistance programme Health Assured, provided an employee meets the period of incapacity for work requirements as usual, which is three days.
“Employees will likely have sought a doctor’s note upon the commencement of their absence anyway, such as being signed off work with stress for two weeks,” says David Price, CEO of Health Assured.
Mr Price told NationalWorld that “employers should remember that mental health should be taken just as seriously as a physical injury,” and that if employees are unsupported in this situation this “could cause ongoing issues with employee relations, cause their symptoms to worsen and, potentially, result in discrimination claims.”
He says that employers should “approach this situation carefully and consider how they can support employees who are struggling with their mental health.”
This could include making changes to the employee’s working day once they return to the workplace, and encouraging their use of an Employee Assistance Programme if the company offers one.
An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is an employee benefit which provides people with support and practical advice on issues that might be impacting their wellbeing and performance.
An EAP provides counselling and expert support on personal or work-related problems.
What should an employee do if they need time off work due to mental health?
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) says that workers who need to take time off work for mental health reasons can check how their workplace deals with absence to find out how their leave should be managed, and should keep in touch during the absence if possible.
The amount of time off needed can also vary, depending on how severe the issue is and the person affected, as everyone’s experience of a mental health issue is different, explains ACAS.
The Government’s mental health recovery plan for 2021 to 2022 intends to work with a wide range of national government departments, local councils, businesses, charities and experts by experience in order to identify “where we need to focus and go further, together.”