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How to Detect 5 Common Warning Signs of Poor Mental Health in the Workplace.

According to a fact sheet published by the World Health Organisation, “Globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression…” Their studies also, “estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.” October is World Mental Health Awareness month. This article is part 2 of a series of 3 articles in an effort by The Mindspa Institute to help create awareness of good mental health in the workplace.

Proactive managers that promote mental health in the workplace and support staff with mental health disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, and increase productivity. Yet a study by SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group) noted that only 25% of managers felt they had sufficient support to deal with employees suffering from depression.

It is important that managers should know what to look for, and familiarise themselves with the signs of Mental Health issues in the workplace. This will help you as a manager, team leader or HR professional with early detection which will ultimately save the company money and retain talent. Although your staff might not always disclose everything to you, it is extremely important to keep engaging with them on a regular basis and to let them know that you have an open door policy.

In order to detect the early warning signs, you need to know the risk factors for mental health in the workplace.

Mental health problems cost employers a lot of money. It decreases productivity and increases absenteeism and a high staff turnover. It is important for proactive managers and leaders to be aware of the various risks in order to prevent or early detect mental health problems among staff.

Commonly reported risks are:

  • Workplace bullying and any form of harassment.
  • A lack of communication and ineffective management practices.
  • Restricted or highly regulated decision-making which might make employees feel like they have a lack of control.
  • Inadequate resources to deal with the workload.
  • Uncertain task goals and performance guidance.
  • Poor health and safety policies.
  • Little to none support from their supervisor or management.
  • No flexibility in terms of working hours and personal issues.
  • Unreasonable expectations of doing certain tasks the employee doesn’t necessarily have the required knowledge for.
  • Job specific risks like fear of death or harmful consequences that come with the job specs.

These risks also have devastating effects and a severe impact on families and communities. Very often, people who suffer from mental health problems turn to alcohol and drugs for help. Suicide is also on the increase. Because the workplace forms a huge part of most adults’ lives, what happens at the office or because of work or the work environment, ultimately has a great impact on the person’s emotional state and wellbeing.

5 Common Warning signs of Poor Mental Health in the Workplace.

Mental Health problems are not always easy to detect, especially if managers don’t know what to look for. Because managers are not necessarily qualified to diagnose someone at work with, for example, having a mental illness like depression, they need to at least know what symptoms to lookout for over a period of about two weeks, so that they can encourage co-workers to seek professional help.

Remember these 5 Common Warning Signs to detect poor mental health in the workplace amongst your co-workers:

  1. A sudden change in their mood – Over a course of two weeks you suddenly see your co-worker’s mood deteriorate and they constantly seem irritated, frustrated, sad, nervous, worried, passive, tense and even anxious. They might have mood swings or outbursts or might frequently lose control over their emotions.
  2. Their work habits and morale changes – Red flags should go up if you see sudden and continuous negativity, lack of motivation and poor work performance. Their productivity lessens dramatically and they don’t want to cooperate anymore.
  3. Tiredness and constant absenteeism– Constant complaints of aches and pains, tiredness or other illnesses increases. They might seem confused or are unable to solve a basic problem. Their energy levels are extremely low and they fall ill and stay away from work often. When they are at work, they might just sit and stare or appear extremely tired.
  4. Personal neglect and Substance abuse – Co-workers who suffer from a mental health illness might also stop taking care of their personal appearance. This is a big warning sign especially if they are known for being neat and tidy every day and suddenly look like they don’t care about how they look anymore. Abruptly pitching up drunk at work on a regular basis or seeming like they might do drugs are all warning signs that there is something not right.
  5. Withdrawing and personal neglect – If an otherwise spontaneous and social co-worker suddenly starts pulling away from interaction or are showing signs of withdrawing from group activities it might indicate underlying mental health problems.

As a proactive manager, what is your next step to take? As weird as it may sound, your co-workers might not know about their poor mental health. Or they might be afraid to talk to you as their employer about it. Mental health is a very personal and sensitive topic, but it’s important for managers to pay attention and handle mental health quickly but with caution. You need a plan and your plan should take both the business and your employee’s needs into consideration. Our next article will advise you as a proactive manager how to deal with employees suffering from poor mental health.

Ideally you should create awareness among management as well as your employees about Emotional and Workplace wellness. The Mindspa Institute has courses on Workplace Wellness that can either be presented in-house or online.