How are work and mental health related?

Please note: this resource is for people managing their own mental health at work.

Many people find going to work is good for their mental health. It can help you look after your mental health by providing:

  • a source of income
  • a sense of identity
  • contact and friendship with others
  • a steady routine and structure
  • opportunities to gain achievements and contribute

“I found work helps me to maintain an important part of my identity – separate from the illness. It’s still me in here.”

At times you may find that your work is affected because of your mental health problem. For instance, if you are experiencing hypomania, you might find it difficult to concentrate. But by making a few changes, and with support from your employer, work can be a positive experience.

What if work is making my mental health worse?

Unfortunately, you might find work can have a negative impact on your mental health. This could be because of:

  • workplace stress
  • poor relations with your colleagues
  • the type of work you’re doing
  • experiencing stigma, or being treated unfairly because of your mental health problem
  • being unsure whether to tell your boss and colleagues about your mental health problem
  • worrying about returning to work after a period of poor mental health

If work is affecting your mental health, you can take steps to address the problems.

“Work takes my mind off my mental illness but also makes it worse as no-one around you knows what you are going through so [you feel you] have to pretend everything is fine.”

Whether you have a mental health problem or not, your employer has a duty of care to you under health and safety legislation. Employees have the right to:

  • work where risks to their health are properly controlled
  • protection after returning to work from sickness absence if they have become more vulnerable due to their illness

What is disability discrimination?

In Hong Kong, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s mental illness, under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance.

For more information about anti-discrimination at the workplace, please see

What if I’m unemployed?

People experience unemployment for different reasons, such as:

  • redundancy
  • sickness
  • lack of opportunities
  • relocation
  • dismissal
  • not being well enough to work

When looking for a new job, challenges such as finding a suitable role, writing applications and attending interviews can take time. You might find that being unemployed affects your confidence, or that it can be disheartening if employers don’t get back to you. See Mind HK’s online guides on Mental Wellbeing and Self-esteem for ways to look after yourself.

Who can support me in finding a job?

If you have a mental health problem and you’re facing barriers to finding employment, there are organisations that can support you.

The Selective Placement Division under the Labour Department of Hong Kong provides free employment service to job seekers with disabilities, including ex-mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, specific learning difficulties and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder.

See Useful contacts at the end of this guide.

Will I always get the support I need to go back to work?

We know that back-to-work schemes often fail to provide the support that people with mental health problems need to stay well, return to, or start work.

What if I’m not well enough to work?

If you are unable to work there are still ways of getting the benefits of having a job, such as meeting new people, gaining skills and contributing to a community. If you feel able to, you may want to think about:

  • volunteering
  • joining a community group
  • doing a course

Alternatively, you could check your local online job board and newspapers to find out what is available near you.

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