Spotting Mental Health Issues At Work

03rd April 2019

It’s known that mental health is a growing concern in the UK and around the world, and 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year. However, it’s not uncommon for mental health problems to be hidden in the workplace. It’s also worth noting that even if an individual hasn’t had a formal diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that they’re not going through a bad period with their mental health. It is a manager’s responsibility to spot the signs of those struggling with mental health in their team and help them to manage this. Whether it be through encouraging mental health sick days, workplace adjustments or introducing an absence management plan. It’s important to ensure your employees are happy and productive at work!

Physical Signs

One of the more obvious ways to see that someone is suffering with their mental health is through the physical signs that they’re showing. A panic attack is something to note, it can be a very frightening and distressing experience for an individual. Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 20 minutes. Someone who is suffering from a panic attack may begin to shake, sweat, struggle to breathe, have chest pains or shaky limbs.

Alternatively, you may notice someone is engaging in drug or alcohol abuse. They might not be doing so on the job, however, if they’re coming in hungover or if they’re appearing to drink/intake more substances it could be a warning sign. Some of the other physical signs may not be so obvious, such as being tearful, having stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.

Psychological Signs

More often than not, the psychological signs someone is suffering with can be more difficult to spot. This highlights the importance of getting to know the members of your team as individuals so that you can much easier pick up on the psychological signs they’re showing. Some of these may include the following:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence


Behavioural Signs

Similarly, behavioural signs can be more difficult to spot and can be misconstrued as a bad work ethic or etiquette. If you notice a change in an employee’s behaviour, it’s important to have a conversation with them to see if there is anything behind these changes, rather than reprimanding them. Some of the behaviour changes you might see are:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Anger/ short temper
  • Out of character
  • Increased absence

Wellness Sessions

One of the biggest issues we face in helping mental health is the stigma that surrounds it. To help combat this, it’s important to promote positive mental health within your workplace. Schedule in monthly sessions to have an open and honest discussion around mental health with your team. Try and make the session more open, rather than focusing on singling out individuals, who may feel uncomfortable sharing their personal lives with their colleagues. Instead, make everyone think about what the warning signs of mental health issues could be, and discuss the advice you could give those who are having a tough time. It’s important to remember that everyone is different, so it’ll take some individuals longer than others to feel comfortable sharing their personal experiences. But when done well, wellness sessions can help to create a much more open culture.

Supporting Employees During Difficult Periods:

Open Culture

As briefly mentioned above, one of the best ways to address mental health in the workplace is to have an open culture. If your employees are happy to have a conversation with you, it’ll decrease the chances of their mental health deteriorating further. That way, if you don’t notice any signs that employees are struggling yourself, you have more trust in the fact they’ll come to you if they need some support.

The Conversation

If you suspect your employee is struggling with their mental health and haven’t said anything to you, you may need to take the first step and raise this with them. There is no need for it to be awkward, simply address it in the same way you would a physical health problem. If you have open and honest communication, this should be easier to do.

Tangible Steps You Can Take:

  • Remaining Positive: Focus on what your employees can do, rather than what they can’t. Encourage them to do the work that they can comfortably do.
  • Workplace adjustments: In some cases, you might need to make adjustments in the workplace to assist them in their role. For example, reducing their hours or responsibility to make their role more manageable. Or, you could put their working desk in a quieter space, or give them more regular breaks. Have a conversation with the employee about the issues they’re facing, and then you can put processes in place to help to manage these.
  • Time off work: In some cases, an employee might need time off if their mental health issues have reached a point where they can no longer come to work. In this case, it’s important to put a proactive absence management plan in place to plan a phased return to work.
  • Encourage people to work on their own happiness by doing things that support good mental health such as exercise, meditation or eating healthily.

If you need some more guidance around spotting mental health issues at work, or managing these issues get in touch with our team.

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