Mental Health in the Workplace

1 in 4 of in the general population will experience a mental health problem at any given time. Some research has suggested that the prevalence of mental health problems amongst serving and veteran populations is even higher. Experiencing a mental health problem is not an insurmountable barrier to work; many people are able to manage long-term health conditions well (both physical and mental health) while continuing to work successfully in their chosen field.

We know that mental health problems can be exacerbated and triggered by unemployment, and we know that there is a link between physical ill health and mental ill health. People with a physical disability are more likely to experience a mental health condition, particularly depression. For many people, work is an aid to recovery from mental illness. To learn more about different types of mental health problems, you can read The Poppy Factory’s Employment in Mind report here.

The things that you can do in the workplace to support veterans who are experiencing mental health problems are the same things that you can be doing to support all your employees.

They include:

Creating a safe environment where people feel able to discuss the problems they are experiencing.

Good communication with clear, realistic expectations of what is required of employees.

Ensuring that your employees have the training, the support and the tools that they need to do their job.

Making sure that your line managers are accessible, supportive and able to offer coaching and mentoring to their staff.

Taking an interest in people’s lives outside of work.

Encouraging staff to build resilience by keeping physically fit and active.

Being aware of the physical environment. Poor working conditions (lack of natural light, high noise levels, poor equipment) are bad for mental health.

Exploring active coping skills with people (positive things that we can be doing rather than panicking, burying our head in the sand, or drinking too much).

Encouraging staff to take the breaks and holiday that they are entitled to.

Offering a phased return to work after longer periods of absence.

Limiting out-of-hours communication. Constant monitoring of mobile phones and emails is damaging for our mental health. Encourage your staff to turn off their work phones when they are on leave.

Stamping out bullying.

Ensuring that the demands you make are realistic and that people’s work isn’t too hard, or too easy.

Enabling people to have some control over what they do and how they do it.

You can find out more about mental health in the Armed Forces please visit here. Also useful is Business in the Community’s (BiTC) Suicide Prevention Toolkit.

What Are Mental Health Problems?

All of us have mental health; just in the same way as we all have physical health

In the same way as our physical health can fluctuate, our mental health can fluctuate also. Mental health is often described as being on a spectrum and we move up and down that spectrum. Mental illness can be caused by a number of factors, including our genetics, our physical health, our biology, our experiences, our environment, and our circumstances. 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem at any given time.

Anxiety is the main symptom for a number of conditions, including panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder. Feeling anxious is completely normal. We all experience anxiety when we are feeling under pressure, encountering new situations, or facing the unknown. But people who have anxiety disorders experience physical and psychological symptoms to such an extent that it impacts on their day-to-day life.
Mood disorders describe mood changes or disturbances and include depression, bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The symptoms for depression include despondency, loss of enjoyment and low motivation. The symptoms for bipolar disorder include more extreme swings in mood from manic phases to severe depression. SAD is a form of depression that effects people during the winter months.

People are experiencing psychosis when they perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. The two main symptoms are hallucinations (when a person hears, sees or even feels, touches and smells things that aren’t there – a common hallucination is hearing voices), and delusions (when a person believes things that are untrue). Psychosis can be a symptom of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression.

More information on mental health problems is available from Rethink, Mind and NHS Choices.

Mental health in the Armed Forces

Research has shown that the most prevalent mental health problems experienced by veterans (in order of prevalence) are:

  • Adjustment disorders (a stress-related, short term condition triggered by life events)
  • Alcohol misuse
  • Depression
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Drug misuse

The mental health disorder most associated with the Armed Forces is PTSD. It is worth noting from this list that this is not the most common mental health disorder that is experienced by veterans. The most common mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. About 3% of adults in the general population experience PTSD, among serving and veteran populations this is between 4-6%. The symptoms of PTSD generally fall into three categories:


This is where a person re-lives traumatic events in the form of a flashback, a nightmare, or a physical sensation such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.

Avoidance and emotional numbing

This can include avoiding certain people or places that remind the person of the trauma.

Hyperarousal (feeling on edge)

This is where people are constantly aware of threats and find it difficult to relax. This can lead to irritability, angry outbursts, insomnia and difficulty sleeping.

For more information on PTSD please see NHS Choices and Combat Stress.

Another form of mental health problem is traumatic brain injury (TBI). This is caused by a trauma to the head and can result in balance problems, headaches, dizziness, memory and anger problems, and can impact on cognitive ability (for example impaired memory or concentration).

For more information on TBI please see Headway. Serving personnel, veterans, and their families can receive free access to Big White Wall, which provides an online community for people experiencing anxiety and depression.


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