Identifying Employees Suffering from Mental Health Issues

Morgan McKinley 24.05.2019

Mental health issues can often be difficult to identify, and therefore difficult for the person experiencing them to open up and resolve them.

As an employer, knowing how to identify and support employees who are struggling with their mental health can be imperative to their overall performance and attitude at work. 

Work life can really impact on your mental health…

Mental health is a highly personal thing, and is influenced by a variety of things, work often being one of them. Mental health problems can take a variety of forms, the most common of those that arise being anxiety and depression. Employers and management are much more used to dealing with physical issues, which is natural considering the stigma which surrounded mental health illnesses for many years. 

Mental health issues can often be exaggerated or heightened in the workplace, with the extra pressures of working life adding to already pre-existing conditions and issues. It is therefore crucial that employers, managers, etc are equipped to deal with such challenges, if and when they arise. It is also important that there are policies, programmes and initiatives in place to look out for and support employees who need them.

What to look out for - signs of mental health problems at work…

Spotting employees who are struggling with mental health issues can often not be straightforward. However, identifying someone who is struggling as soon as possible can be the key to helping them recover. Obviously, as mental health is such a personal thing for each individual, managers and employers can never just assume that someone is experiencing issues and wants to discuss them, however, the following are some telltale signs that someone may be facing mental health difficulties at work. 

  • Mood swings or noticeable changes in behaviour 
  • Lack of clarity or focus at work
  • Coming across as nervous or preoccupied in work and lack of interest in engaging with colleagues
  • Increase in normal drinking or smoking habits 
  • Drastic change in weight or appearance
  • Increase in absenteeism or missed periods of work

How best to approach someone who you think may be suffering…

The easiest way to approach an employee about their mental health is to simply check in on how they are on a regular basis. Once they are then ready to tak, hopefully you will have built up somewhat of a rapport and they can feel they can open up to you. 

Privacy is key in these situations, so the first action should probably to set aside some time to catch up one-on-one with said employee. Ensuring that the tone of the meeting is kept light and informal will serve to reassure the individual and make the concept less daunting to them. 

What happens if an employee approaches you…

On the other side, if an employee approaches you wishing to discuss matters of concerns or issues in regards to their mental health at work, you should be willing to talk, no matter how big or small the issue may seem. This is also why it is important that there are programmes and initiatives in place to deal with these kinds of situations, as and when they arise. Occasionally, additional guidance or resources may be necessary from HR or external sources. 

Supporting staff who are working with a mental illness...

If an employee already is aware or feels that they may be suffering from mental health issues, then as an employer you should do your best to accommodate these so that the employee can carry out their role as best they can. Mental health discrimination in the workplace is a criminal act under the 2010 Equality Act. It is important to keep in mind that mental health illnesses and issues come in all shapes and forms, some recognised, others not recognised. Ensuring professionals feel heard, recognised and supported at work can make all the difference to how they are feeling and also retaining them within the company. If an employee doesn’t feel acknowledged or supported at work, then chances are they may look elsewhere.

Simple changes or flexibility which you could incorporate into working life that might make an employee feel more comfortable in their role:

  • Allowing them more regular or longer breaks
  • Flexible working arrangements such as working from home
  • Regular catch ups and one-to-one meetings to check in 
  • Arrange regular support for staff members even when they are away from the office, such as regular contact and phased office returns

Useful links in relation to mental health and work…

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