Mental health in the workplace: How to recognise the early signs that someone may need support

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It’s hard to underestimate the impact of mental health in the workplace and with an increasing volume of statistics the picture is becoming quite clear. A recent Labour Force Survey (LFS) draws out two quite startling figures as in 2017/18 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health.

We spend half our lives at work so when it comes to our mental health early intervention at work is a key factor in recovery and in preventing sickness absence. Research shows that work is the place we feel least comfortable talking about mental health so if we are going to tackle this, we need to tackle the stigma and become more mental health aware at work. Training is a recommended route, whether you look at mental health first aid training or mental health awareness programmes; helping the workforce, managers and key personnel to recognise the early signs and appropriate interventions.

We bring our problems from home into the office and work can be a place that exacerbates these problems or a place of support.  When it comes to noticing that someone might be in need of support there are many signs to look out for.  People might exhibit one or many of the below so in order to be able to spot the signs you really need to know your people.  You are looking for changes… these changes can be subtle.  A person doesn’t need to be in floods of tears in the middle of the office for you to notice that they are in need of some emotional support at work.

There are different signs to look for;

Emotional Signs – Have they become more irritable – have you noticed a loss of confidence?  Has their sense of humour changed – Are they teary?  

Cognitive Signs – Have you noticed that they are making mistakes – Do they appear not to be able to concentrate on the task at hand – Has there been a sudden drop in performance?

Behavioural Signs – They may not be taking a lunch break – Are they arriving late which is out of character – Are they missing deadlines or being more or less extrovert?  Are they drinking or smoking more?

Physical – If they usually look after their appearance are looking like they haven’t made an effort?  Are they appearing to be lacking energy or constantly complaining that they are tired?  Have they gained or lost weight?

Business – These tend to be the signs that we notice (and measure) first…  Has there been an increase in sickness absence, lateness or a noticeable drop in productivity or motivation?

Anyone with any responsibility for another person within the workplace needs to be able to spot the signs and have the confidence to be able to approach and support the other person. 

Mental health training courses don't teach you to be a therapist, but they do give you the ability to be able to notice when someone is perhaps struggling, the confidence to approach them, to listen to them non judgmentally and to sign post them ensuring they receive the relevant help.

Author

Mental Health First Aid Instructor

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