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Mental health and work: is it affecting your career?

Mental health and work: is it affecting your career?

Mental health issues can affect all areas of your life, including your career. Every job has pressure and stress, but what if it’s more than that? Managing your mental health and work is vital, so you need to be able to recognise any signs of issues.

Around one in six people in England experience symptoms of mental health problems during any given week1. While there’s potential for stress in all aspects of life, balancing mental health and work can be particularly difficult - especially if you’re unsure what signs to look out for.

If you have or ever experience symptoms of mental health problems at work, you're not alone. 914,000 workers experienced work-related stress, depression, or anxiety between 2021 and 20222. It’s essential to identify signs of stress so you know when you need help and support.

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Signs your mental health is affecting your work

You’re not positive about or at work

Everyone has bad days but you shouldn't feel this way every day. If you find it difficult to be positive at work or lack motivation, it may be a sign of work-related mental health problems.

If there's a clear difference between how you feel in and outside of work, it may be a sign your negative feelings are related to your job. It you find it difficult to communicate and interact with colleagues, this can affect mental health also. Socialising is beneficial for support, trust, and stress relief in the workplace.

Tiredness and irritability

Tiredeness(fatigue) and low energy can be down to many factors, including poor diet and lack of sleep - but it can also be a sign of mental health problems such as depression3. Symptoms of long term tiredness and depression are similar - such as poor concentration, irritability, and a lack of motivation. You may think you're just tired but the real cause could be mental health.

If you sleep and eat well and cannot identify any lifestyle factors making you over-tired, you should speak to your doctor. They can help you find the source of the problem, whether it's physical or mental, and offer advice and treatment. Balancing mental health and work can be exhausting if it's every day - this can lead to burnout and using your weekend to recover from work-related stress4.

Weekends are your time to relax and have fun- if you use your weekends to recover from the working week, it can be a problem.

You sleep poorly on work nights

If you struggle with mental health and work, you'll likely sleep better if you don't have work the next day. People tend to feel anxious at night when it's quiet, and there are no distractions. It's easier for your mind to wander and you think about the day ahead. If you think about anything stressful, such as your job, you'll be anxious and find it difficult to sleep5.

Whether this happens every night or just work nights, you should speak to your doctor about your anxiety. But, if it is being casued by your work life, you shoud also speak to your employer. Poor sleep can cause and be caused by anxiety, so getting treatment and support even with mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety is important. Ignoring it can cause burnout and worse mental health symptoms.


Mental health problems affect your attitude, memory, concentration, and cognitive function. So with mental health and work, behaviour such as poor time management, inefficiency, and falling behind could be seen as underperforming. This can be an issue for both employees and employers, especially if you're employer is unaware of your difficulties.

Speaking about mental health can be tough, but your employer needs to be aware of it. Otherwise, they could view poor performance as a lack of ability or effort - which can affect your confidence and self-esteem.


Mental health is one of the top five reasons for time off work. The average amount of sick days for those suffering from mental health problems between 2021 and 2022 was around 18 days6. When dealing with stress, depression, and anxiety, going to work feels more difficult and daunting - often leading to sick days.

While you’re entitled to sick days for mental health, taking lots of time off isn’t a good sign, especially if you’re not open about the cause. It helps to be honest with your employer/HR and discuss supportive solutions. Otherwise, you might continue to have mental health issues while potentially harming your career -another factor that can cause stress and anxiety.

Where to get support for your mental health at work

Every business is unique and has its own approach to mental health and work. Speak to someone that makes you feel comfortable - this can help with an open, honest, and productive conversation. If you have a good relationship with your manager, they could be your first port of call to get help.

Additionally, some companies have dedicated mental health first aiders trained to support and advise employees struggling with mental health problems. Whether you need a chat or a person to find you professional help such as starting cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), speaking to someone is an important first step.

Jodie Stead, mental health first aider (MHFA) explains:

"Having the support of mental health first aiders available in the workplace has never been more important. MHFA training helps to spot the early signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and start supportive conversations, allowing the staff member to get help sooner as early prevention enables recovery. MHFA can help support conversations about mental health, promote any available educational resources to staff and reduce the stigma around mental health."

Otherwise, contact your HR department to discuss your needs and learn about your employer’s mental health support and processes.

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Further reading

  1. Mental Health Foundation: Mental health at work statistics

  2. HSE: Health and safety statistics 2021/22

  3. Neurosci: Fatigue as a residual symptom of depression

  4. Fritz et al: Recovery, health, and job performance: effects of weekend experiences

  5. Neurosci: Sleep and anxiety disorders

  6. HSE: Working days lost 2021/22

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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