Psychological Health at Work

by Dr Christopher C Ridgeway

Policies and strategies

Company procedures and practice with regard to psychological ill health should be regularly reviewed to keep up with best practice and changes in legislation.

Data protection


It is likely that the majority of published information will be for health and safety purposes.

In 2003, the fourth part of the Data Protection Code on Employment Practice was published. It detailed how records of an employee’s physical and psychological health should be held. Information on an employee’s health is considered ‘sensitive personal data’. Health information is required to be securely kept and available only for strictly limited purposes. Management needs to define these purposes and to make company policy known to employees.

Attitudes to psychological health

Many employees will have a negative attitude to mental health. This acts as a substantial block against employing people with, or who have had, psychological problems, and against their return to work or their employment in specific jobs.

How can you achieve a change of attitude to psychological health? One way to overcome psychological health issues is to train staff.


You can achieve a great deal by training supervisory and management staff about psychological health, specifically, how to successfully manage those who are recovering from or experiencing psychological health problems. This can play an effective role in changing negative attitudes.

You might also consider offering training for all staff on how to be aware of psychological health issues, within themselves and others. Again, a well-run training can improve the general level of empathy for those who are experiencing psychological ill-health.


Many job applicants will not disclose previous psychological health issues because of the fear of discrimination. Employers who publicise their willingness to make adjustments for those who have or have had psychological health problems may find that applicants are more willing to discuss their own problems.

Ensure that applicants know that their doctor will, subsequent to an offer of employment being made, be sent a personal health form asking them to comment on the applicant’s physical and psychological suitability for a particular job. The doctor will be also sent a job description and personal specification for the specific job.


Doctors can refuse to complete forms. The response rate tends to increase if the form is sent by a professional occupational health person, such as a nurse, or someone senior, such as a company director.



Any psychological test manual will give guidance on time allowances. If it does not, ring the test publisher for information.

It is likely that someone with psychological health problems or who has had such problems may not have attended an interview for a considerable period of time. Management will need to consider whether

  • To allow the applicant to be accompanied by another person
  • The applicant should be allowed more time to complete ability and/or aptitude assessments.

Gaps in employment

Many applicants who have or have had psychological health issues will have gaps in their employment history. Management will need to consider, before the interview, how they will deal sensitively with this issue.

Policies and practices for specific groups

Because this is such a wide and complex area, it is dealt with in the page on Particular groups, which covers such groups as alcoholics and substance abusers and those who are suicidal.