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Spotting the warning signs of mental health issues at work

Have you ever stopped to consider why a co-worker might be acting out of character? Perhaps you’ve put it down to them just having a bad day. We all have bad days, but when those bad days start to be the norm the risk of developing mental health issues increases. Would you step in and help a co-worker who is having more bad days than good or would you dismiss their behaviour? Would you reprimand them for acting inappropriately or speak to them first and offer your help and support? It can be very hard to know what to do in these situations but being aware and able to spot the warning signs is a valuable ability to have. So, what should you be looking out for? Here are three warning signs that your co-worker might be struggling with their mental health.


3 signs that a colleague may be struggling with their mental health


Physical signs

Often the hardest to spot because many physical signs of mental illness occur internally and are often well disguised. These might include headaches, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, digestive problems. One of the easier things to spot is a panic attack. A panic attack can be an incredibly frightening experience, and several physical symptoms can happen all at once. A person may start to sweat, shake, and find it hard to breathe. Their heart may be pounding, and they might feel pain in their chest. They may feel as though they are having a heart attack. Panic attacks are often linked with mental health problems such as anxiety or panic disorders. People known to suffer with panic attacks will often be aware of their triggers and will know the best way to manage the situation.

Emotional signs

It can be somewhat easier to recognise emotional signs of mental distress, but you still need to be extra attentive. If you notice a person regularly appears teary, distracted or confused these could be signs of distress. Either way, if you suspect someone may be struggling, they may benefit from talking to someone about how they are feeling.

Behavioural signs

Perhaps one of the most notable behavioural signs is an increase in absence. It is worth considering initially taking a supportive rather than punitive stance. Allow people the opportunity to explain the reasons behind the increased absence. They may be facing some difficult personal or work-related issues you simply haven’t been made aware of yet. Offering some support in this situation may reduce the likelihood of further absence in the future.

You may also start to notice poor time keeping, a drop in work quality, increased irritability, and unnecessary risk taking. Potentially, some of these behavioural signs can be misunderstood as just having a poor worth ethic or bad manners but they could be masking some mental distress.

Everyone will experience different signs and symptoms, and these can change over time. If you are a manager, it is important to understand that every member of your team will need to be managed differently. You need to be aware of what each person needs and wants. You need to understand which members of your team can handle different types of work. You need to recognise the unique physical, emotional and behavioural characteristics that tell you each person is becoming distressed.

You don’t need to become an expert but learning to develop your awareness skills and confidently offer support in times of need, means people feel listened to, taken seriously and valued. Try and focus more on prevention and build in regular talks about mental health during team briefings, away days or 1-1 catch ups. This helps to normalise the conversation and reduce the stigma and fear still attached to mental health. Doing so may help increase the rate of mental ill health disclosure in the workplace. This helps businesses to build in very tailored support to help manage everyone’s unique circumstances.


Want to provide better mental health support to your entire workforce?

Pascal® is an innovative online mental health support platform that allows you and your employees to measure home and work pressure, ensures you comply with HSE regulations and employment law, and importantly, provide your employees with more support surrounding mental health.

Taking less than 10 minutes to complete, employees will receive a confidential report with recommendations and links to existing support pathways. Your company report then identifies hotspots and trends to focus your mental health strategy around.  Learn more about Pascal here.

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