How to recognise mental health issues in the workplace

Oct 13, 2021 | First Aid

With research suggesting that 1 in 4 people living in the UK are suffering from mental health issues, creating a positive and supportive environment in the workplace is more important than ever. Employees should feel safe and supported if they are affected by mental health, as this not only benefits the individual but benefits the business. Studies have shown that businesses whose employees suffer from fewer mental health struggles are more productive and even better off financially.

So how can I recognise poor mental health in my colleagues and help to build a supportive environment surrounding mental health issues at work?

How can I recognise mental health issues in the workplace?

Mental health issues in the workplace can exhibit a wide range of signs and symptoms, and they might not be easily recognisable to those who work with or around the individual. Every individual will experience different symptoms and will exhibit different signs. This short guide is a general overview of the most common signs that could indicate somebody is suffering from poor mental health.

By looking out for the following signs in the people around you every day, you can create a supportive environment surrounding mental health in your workplace.

  • A change in personality or behaviour
  • Social Withdrawal
  • A sense of hopelessness or seeming overwhelmed
  • Lack of self-care
  • Decreased productivity and disinterest in work or everyday activities
  • Low levels of engagement


1. A change in personality

This sign might be difficult to spot if you don’t know this person well, however it can be very easy if you are around this person frequently and know them well. Changes in personality are not to be ignored, as it could indicate a mental health problem. 

If an individual is not feeling or acting like themselves, it can lead to feelings, decisions and actions which could the individual, their wellbeing, or it could affect those around them. 

2. Social Withdrawal

According to WebMD, social withdrawal is one of the biggest signs that an individual is experiencing symptoms of depression. This so-called ‘depression trap’ might give a temporary feeling of relief – like ‘running away’ from a problem – but the more the individual withdraws from social contact, the worse they can end up feeling. 

Clinical depression can make it difficult to communicate with people, and people suffering may seem like they don’t want to stay in contact with you. They might seem uninterested in conversation, easily irritated, and even moody or angry. 

Other mental health conditions can cause the individual to feel like they need to withdraw from social contact, however, depression and anxiety are the more common issues to present this symptom.

3. A sense of hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed

An individual suffering with mental health issues may have feelings of hopelessness as if there if nothing they can do to improve their situation. Feelings of hopelessness and despair can impact the individuals daily life, as they may lose motivation surrounding their work and disinterest in hobbies and activities they would usually enjoy.

Overwhelming feelings can be stressful, especially at work. Tasks that somebody may not find overwhelming can be extremely daunting and stress-inducing for an individual struggling with their mental health. This can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and uncharacteristic decisions or actions. 

4. A lack of self care

Self-care activities might come naturally or automatically to most of us, however an individual experiencing mental health problems can view these daily activities as difficult hurdles they might not be willing to jump over. Activities such as cleaning, eating, exercising, and sleeping no longer become a necessity, and can be neglected. 

This can lead to serious health and hygiene issues, which can in turn worsen the effects of mental illness as the individual can physically see signs of worsening instead of improvement.

5. Decreased productivity and disinterest in work or everyday activities

Mental health issues can cause the individual to lose interest and enjoyment in aspects of their daily life, from their hobbies and interests to their career and work life. As well as causing this individual suffering, this loss of interest could affect their work life and could result in actions that could make the situation worse. 

Colleagues and supervisors need to be able to recognise this behaviour and treat it with understanding and support – as the wrong actions could impact the individual negatively and increase feelings of disinterest and further decrease productivity.


6. Low levels of engagement

Low levels on engagement, a persistent tiredness, or low energy levels can be an indicator that the individual is suffering from mental health issues. These symptoms can be caused or worsened by loss of sleep, and/or interest in work or daily activities – which are common for people experiencing mental health difficulties.  Somebody experiencing these symptoms might seem disinterested, unmotivated or even lazy or rude in conversation with you. Showing low levels of engagement, especially when this behaviour seems uncharacteristic for the person, can indicate poor mental health.

Low levels of engagement in the workplace can make it difficult for co-workers and supervisors to communicate and work efficiently with the individual. It’s important that you have created a positive environment surrounding mental health at work, so the individual becomes supported during this time instead of pressured or attacked.


Take part in a Mental Health at Work training course

A mental health awareness training course could be a great idea if you would like you and/or your employees to become more aware of mental health issues, how they can affect an individual, and how to help and raise awareness for those suffering or at risk of mental health problems. A Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace course or a Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace course could give you the information you need to lead the way towards a supportive culture around mental health in your workplace.


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