What are mental health difficulties?

What we mean by mental health difficulties and how you can help apprentices at work.

The most common difficulties with mental health are those which affect our emotional wellbeing. These include depression or anxiety. Symptoms include profound sadness, lack of energy or unsettling agitation.

Some people may also experience very significant difficulties with their mental wellbeing. This may include feelings of sadness or anxiety going on for a long time, or which are overwhelming.

Some people may experience thoughts of suicide. Others may have experiences where their sense of reality is affected. For example, they may hear voices or experience thoughts and beliefs which are not real.

If you're concerned an apprentice or other employee is having these types of experiences, you can help. It's important to signpost them to help from a GP or reputable support organisation as soon as possible.

What do we mean by mental health? 

Mental health and wellbeing, and poor mental health and wellbeing, cover a wide range of areas and it's helpful to have clear definitions. 

Mental health

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Our mental health can span through:

  • positive wellbeing

  • periods where our life and emotions feel very challenging

  • experiences of very significant poor wellbeing

Mental wellbeing 

Mental wellbeing is the ability to engage with daily life and cope with stresses without them becoming overwhelming. It means we can work productively and have positive relationships. 

Poor mental health

Poor mental health exists when we feel unable to live life as we'd wish, cope with daily pressures of life, or work productively. We may feel this impairs our relationships and our contributions to our community.

Mental health problems 

When the experiences of poor mental health go on for some time, or are severe, this is often considered to be a significant problem. Sometimes this is diagnosed as a condition such as depression or clinical anxiety.

Some people find these medical diagnoses helpful. Others find them unhelpful and believe these experiences should be seen as part of the human experience.

Common mental health problems 

Many experiences of poor mental health are common, such as depression and anxiety. About 1 in 4 people will have these types of experiences every year. For some, these experiences may be distressing and debilitating.

Severe mental health problems

Some people have experiences that are very different to normal experience. They can be frightening and debilitating and may cause substantial difficulties. These include less common conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

People with these conditions will often need extensive support in their recovery.

Work-related stress 

Work-related stress is caused by excessive work pressure or demands. It's a significant cause of poor mental health. Work-related stress has a strong impact on:

  • sickness absence

  • staff turnover

  • quality of work

  • safety

Stress over time can cause or contribute to anxiety, depression and sometimes other mental health problems.

Some tips and techniques

Many mental health charities now recommend techniques such as:

  • mindfulness

  • breathing exercises

  • grounding activities - these help you focus and feel grounded

Building these into your employees' or apprentices' day could help them support their own mental health. Here are some mindful or relaxation resources to try:

Read our useful guides

In partnership with mental health charity Penumbra we've compiled 4 comprehensive guides to accompany this web resource.

These 2 Employer Guides will help you to support your apprentices' mental health at work. The 2 Apprentice Guides can be found in our Mental Health resource for apprentices.

Explore the rest of our Mental Health resource

A healthy working environment

Creating and maintaining a healthy working environment benefits employees at all levels.

Supporting employees around suicide

It's important to know how to support employees at risk of suicide. Find information and links here.

Supporting employees who self-harm

Find out how to support staff who are, or may be, self-harming.

Your duties as an employer

Advice about your duties in supporting the mental health of your apprentices and other employees.

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.

Further support

Support for you - apprenticeships 2 432 x 288

We are grateful to mental health charity Penumbra for providing advice and information on mental health for this resource. If any of your apprentices or other employees need support, you should encourage them to contact a GP or professional mental-health support organisation. Find support organisations for mental health

Mental Health resource for apprentices

We've also pulled together a companion resource for apprentices. This is a good first place to guide people to if you're worried about their mental health.

View Mental Health at Work - a resource for apprentices