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Poor mental health: understanding the warning signs

With the cost of poor mental health in the workplace ranging between £33-42bn each year, businesses need to get better at spotting the indicators and supporting the mental wellbeing concerns of their teams. Employers can then be in a position to decide if they deem it necessary to signpost staff to support.

With the cost of poor mental health in the workplace ranging between £33-42bn each year, businesses need to get better at spotting the indicators and supporting the mental wellbeing concerns of their teams. Employers can then be in a position to decide if they deem it necessary to signpost staff to support.

Changes to usual behaviour
In the workplace, line managers and colleagues are in a unique position to see how individuals operate daily and so are often the first to spot any out-of-character 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. 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.  

Using stimulants to the extreme
Many employees engage in the consumption of stimulants – be it caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, for example either at work or in their personal time. Over-reliance on stimulants where it begins to affect work, 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. Training managers to look out for signs that usage of a stimulant is becoming problematic enables them to signpost employees to the appropriate avenue of support.

Personal concerns
Everyone is different when it comes to sharing details of their personal lives in the workplace, some employees will wear their heart on their sleeve, whilst others prefer to keep personal details 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 provide indicators as to the state of someone’s mental health.

Struggling with everyday tasks
Employees with a mental health concern may find themselves feeling overwhelmed or suddenly incapable of dealing with previously manageable tasks. For example, an employee may seem distant in meetings, 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.

Physical symptoms
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. Without jumping to conclusions, employers can note these physiological indicators and decide whether intervention is appropriate.

What can employers do to promote positive mental health in the workplace?
Embedding mental health provision in a workforce is key to supporting those that are vulnerable. Businesses can offer lots of support to staff, from mental health first aid training which enables staff to spot the signs of poor mental health and signpost colleagues to the relevant support – through to the provision of an employee assistance programme (EAP). It’s important that support is an ongoing and organic process where it is constantly monitored, and help is offered if needed. Rather than observing employees at a moment in time, businesses that promote positive wellbeing by creating a supportive environment and talk openly about mental health can help to identify individuals that could be at risk.

Brett Hill, Distribution Director – Towergate Health & Protection

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