Mental health warning signs employers need to look out for

This World Mental Health Day (10 October), businesses are being urged to get better at spotting and supporting mental wellbeing concerns.

Image of crumpled paper and hand with sign saying help
The cost of poor mental health in the workplace has been estimated at ranging between £33-42bn each year. Businesses need to get better at spotting and supporting mental wellbeing concerns.Indicators of poor mental health can be physical, psychological or behavioural and so a starting point is to understand some of the most common warning signs of poor mental health, explains Towergate Health & Protection.

What can employers and colleagues look out for?

  1. Changes to ‘normal’ behaviour: Considering a significant proportion of our lives are spent at work – changes in behaviour can be spotted by colleagues and managers as so much time is spent with staff. Changes in normal behaviour, such as being quick to anger when an employee is usually more measured, can be an indicator that their mental health is compromised. As humans we experience a complex variety of emotions regularly, but if out-of-character behavioural patterns become more frequent or problematic it could be a sign that support may be required.
  2. Increased dependence on stimulants: Whether taken at work or in their personal lives, many employees engage in the consumption of stimulants – be it caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, for example. But using stimulants to the extreme, where it affects work, can raise alarm bells regarding employee mental health. Over-reliance on stimulants, as a method of escapism for example, can be covering a multitude of mental wellbeing concerns. Caffeine could be masking sleeplessness, alcohol erasing painful memories, or nicotine calming feelings of anxiety. Employers can look out for signs that usage of a stimulant is problematic and signpost employees to appropriate support.
  3. Airing personal concerns: Employees are all different when it comes to sharing details of their personal lives in the workplace, some will wear their heart on their sleeve, whilst others prefer to keep details of their personal lives to a bare minimum. The crucial factor here is to learn how to listen properly. Personal stories can reveal that an employee has lost their appetite, that their sleep is suffering, or they no longer enjoy previously relished activities – all of which can provide indicators as to the state of someone’s mental health. Employers can then be in a position to decide if they deem it necessary to signpost them to support.
  4. Productivity suffering: Employees may find themselves suddenly incapable of dealing with previously manageable tasks. Delegating activity to others or showing indecisiveness can be signs that an employee is struggling with their mental health. An employee may seem distant in meetings, be unable to concentrate or lack motivation where they’d previously been enthusiastic. Anxiety disorders can be crippling for employees – making the day-to-day suddenly feel overwhelming. Early diagnosis and appropriate support, instigated by employers, can help staff manage challenging situations more effectively.
  5. Physical indicators: A common misconception is that just because a mental health issue is psychological, it does not manifest physically. However, trembling, chest pain and sweating are just some of the physical symptoms that can indicate a mental health issue. In the workplace some of these physiological indicators of compromised mental health can be more apparent. Without jumping to conclusions, employers can note these physiological indicators and decide whether intervention is appropriate.

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Supporting employees' mental wellbeing

David Prosser, head of proposition development at Towergate Health & Protection, comments: “In the workplace, line managers and colleagues are in a unique position to see how individuals operate daily, and spot any changes in behaviour that may indicate a mental health concern."The trouble is that people can get so swept up in the daily demands of their role, that they don’t have time, or forget to look out for common signs that someone is struggling.“There’s a lot of support that businesses can offer, from mental health first aid training which enables staff to spot the signs of poor mental health and signpost colleagues to support through to offering direct access to an employee assistance programme. So rather than observing employees at a moment in time – when organisations remember to keep an eye out for mental health in the workplace – it’s important that support is an ongoing and organic process where it is constantly monitored, and help is offered if needed.”

For more information, visit our dedicated Health and Wellness section.

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