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When is a mental health condition classed as a disability?

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The term ‘disability’ opens a wide umbrella under the Equality Act covering a number of conditions, so how do you know if it protects a particular form of mental health?

Those protected under the act need to have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect which makes it a mission to carry out daily activities.

Individuals are also protected if you are prescribed medication that has a significant impact on your day-to-day life, this does not need to be related to a mental health condition.

You are covered under the Equality Act if your mental health illness 

  • Has more than a small effect on your everyday life
  • Makes things more difficult for you
  • Has lasted at least 12 months, or is likely to last 12 months. Or, if your mental health problem has improved, that it is likely to recur

For example, if you have obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD] and checking lights are switched off and the doors are locked makes you late for work, you are protected under the Equality Act.

Employers must ignore any treatment, such as counselling, their staff is having when determining if their work schedule is impacted by their mental health, classing it as a disability.

If you have had a disability in the past you are still protected under the Equality Act, the same applies for mental health conditions which had a substantial, long-term and adverse effect.

To identify if your mental health problem is classed as a disability, answer yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a mental health problem?
  • Is it long-term? This means it has lasted more than 12 months, or is likely to do so.
  • Does it have a more than a minor adverse effect on my day-to-day living? Or would it do this if I didn't have my treatment or medication?

If you answered ‘yes’ to the three questions you could be protected under the Equality Act, although the final decision will be made by the courts.

You are also advised to ask your GP to write a letter if they believe you have a disability under the Equality Act.

[ Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 13th -19th May, for more information visit the Mental Health Foundation website. ]

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