Looking after your mental health at work

Work can often help our mental wellbeing. However, sometimes work brings pressures which add to mental health problems.

Looking after your mental health at work

Work can often help our mental wellbeing by providing friendships, meaningful activity and learning opportunities. However, if you are having mental health difficulties, work can feel like extra pressure even if there are no direct issues at work.

When working as an apprentice, the challenges of combining studying for a qualification alongside work may at times add to that pressure.

What can negatively affect your mental health at work?

Things in the workplace that can negatively affect your mental health might include:

  • inadequate Health & Safety policies

  • poor communication and management practices

  • limited participation in decision-making or low control over your area of work

  • low levels of support for employees

  • inflexible working hours

  • unclear tasks

(Source: World Health Organisation)

Your employer is responsible for many of these. But there are key things that you can do.

How can you help your work to be a positive experience?

Here are a few key ways to help yourself have a positive work experience that supports your mental health.

Ask what is expected of you

Your employer should support you to understand clearly what is needed from you at work and what they expect of you. Sometimes, though, this is not always as clear as it should be.

So you can ask for clarity with questions such as:

  • What are my priorities this week / this month / for the next three months?

  • How will I know that I am doing a good job and that you are happy with my work?

  • I’m feeling a bit stressed. What are the most important things for me to focus on right now?

Be clear about the support you need

If there are areas of the job where you feel you need support, make sure you ask clearly and explain why you need that support. It can be helpful to break down how you ask for support in to three key areas: feelings, needs and requests.

Support area 1 – Feelings

Describe the emotions that are coming up for you. For example:

  • I’m feeling overwhelmed – I don’t know where to start with my work and studying

  • I’ve got difficult things going on at home – it’s making me feel really low and I’m finding it hard to get motivated

  • I’m not sleeping well because I’m worried about things and it’s making me anxious and unfocused at work

Support area 2 – Needs

Describe what your needs are at this time. For example:

  • I need to try and find a way to get on top of things

  • I need to try and stop worrying that what’s going on at home is affecting my job

Support area 3 – Requests

It helps to clearly make a request that would help to meet your needs. For example:

  • Can you help me to be really clear about what I need to achieve over the next month?

  • Can you tell me what is less important?

  • Can I have a chat once a week so I can tell you how I’m feeling and what is going on at home?

  • Could I come in a bit later some days and work later if I haven’t slept well?

Thinking about these three areas in advance can be helpful to get clear about what support you need.

Read our useful guides

In partnership with mental health charity Penumbra we have compiled two guides to accompany this web resource. These will help you to find ways to talk to your employer and support your own mental health at work.

View PDF guide Mental Health and Wellbeing Support for Apprentices

View PDF guide Looking after Mental Health at Work

Explore the rest of our Mental Health resource

What is mental health?

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health.

What are mental health difficulties?

What we mean by mental health difficulties and what can help at work.

Talking to your employer about mental health

Advice about talking to your employer or learning provider to get mental health support.

How can your employer help you?

Employers have legal duties around mental health and can support you in many ways.

Go to start of resource

You'll find links to the other parts of the resource as well as a list of mental health support organisations.

Support for you - apprenticeships 2 432 x 288

If you need support

We're grateful to mental health charity Penumbra for providing advice and information on mental health for this resource. If you need support, you should contact your GP or professional mental-health support organisation.

You can find mental health organisations at the start of this resource.