43 Signs of mental health problems at work and how to respond

2020 was a year of trauma for many, and managing mental health problems at home and work has been a challenge. Those without anxiety and depression felt the impact and those with various mental health issues easily plummeted deeper due to isolation, financial hardship, and fear of the future. 2021 is shaping up to have it’s own challenges as the pandemic crisis continues throughout the country. With so much uncertainty, paying attention to the mental health of employees is crucial.

1 in 5 Americans are affected by a mental health condition, and unfortunately, less than half receive help for their situation. Ignoring your employees’ mental health issues can lead to poor performance and reduced productivity at work, along with the personal feelings of being alone, lost, and disconnected from others.

Knowing the signs of mental health problems at work is the first step to helping your employees identify and manage their condition.

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Common mental health conditions

There are many mental health conditions one can experience, but here are 5 of the most common you’re likely to see while at work because they impact a larger percentage of our population.

  1. Depression. When diagnosed with depression, you feel sad and/or have a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it affects 1 in 15 adults, and 1 in 6 people will experience it in their lifetime. However, depression is not the same as having a bad day. It cannot be addressed by simply “cheering up” or “looking on the bright side.”
  2. Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety disorder is categorized by having excessive fear or anxiety. This is the most common mental health condition impacting almost 30% of adults at some point (American Psychiatric Association).
  3. Panic Disorder. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder causing you to have panic attacks in which you feel terror although there is no danger present. These attacks can occur without warning and cause you to feel out of control.
  4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When diagnosed with OCD, you are found to get caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. You are said to have OCD when your obsessions and compulsions get in the way of essential activities in your life. OCD impacts 2.3% of adults in the US, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD occurs in some people after experiencing a terrifying event that can lead to flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts about the event, nightmares, or severe anxiety. When this happens for months or years and interferes with how you function in life, it’s considered PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD, 7-8% of the population will experience it at some point.

Warning signs of a mental health condition

Different mental health conditions will have their own warning signs, but here are some common ones to look for in your employees. Also, keep in mind that an employee going through a difficult time may also exhibit some of these symptoms and may not have a true mental health disorder. Either way, it’s important to pay attention to your employees’ mental well-being at all times.

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Sleep/Energy

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Sleeping too much
  • Feeling fatigued

Emotions

  • Feeling sad
  • Excessive worrying
  • Feeling worthless
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling Guilty
  • Emotional highs and lows
  • Feeling suicidal
  • Feeling nervous
  • Easily frustrated, irritated, or angered
  • Feeling irritable
  • Unable to recognize changes in emotions
  • Feeling panic or doom

Interests

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

Concentration

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Easily confused
  • Hard time-solving problems
  • Decreased productivity
  • Difficulty understanding new concepts

Appetite

  • Overeating
  • Not eating enough

Socialization

  • Socially withdrawing
  • Making self-loathing statements
  • Expressing loneliness
  • Difficulty relating to people

Physically

  • Slowed movements
  • Slowed speech
  • Hyperventilating
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling weak
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Poor hygiene
  • Inappropriate dress
  • Consistent aches and pains without obvious causes

Other

  • Taking an excessive number of days off
  • Abusing alcohol, drugs, or having other additions
  • Difficulty separating delusions from reality
  • Inability to carry out daily tasks
  • Inability to handle everyday problems and stresses

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How to respond to perceived mental health problems at work

Employees at your company may not know they have mental health issues or may not want to discuss them out of fear of judgment. That’s why you want to ensure you’re sensitive to the situation every step of the way. This starts by having a policy outlining how you handle these cases. Employees should know this policy and how to respond if they come across someone exhibiting the symptoms mentioned above. Here are a few possible ways to respond.

  • Start by maintaining an empathetic attitude during the conversation. Mental health is a sensitive subject. No one wants to feel judged for going through a difficult time. Having a conversation at work about how someone is doing, especially if they don’t tend to share things about their personal life, can be quite challenging.
  • Don’t be accusatory. You want to ask them if something is happening that’s troubling them. Once they respond, give them time to express themselves fully. If they deny any problems, you can ask follow up questions or share your concerns to see if they feel comfortable opening up. If not, don’t push the issue.
  • Share relevant resources. Finally, share resources they can use to seek help if they’re open to it. This could be mental health providers covered by insurance, employee assistance programs, or using sick days.

Addressing potential mental health issues in fellow employees can be challenging. However, if it’s impacting work performance then it’s necessary work to do. Help them realize they’re not alone and resources are available if they’re willing to take advantage.

Additional Resource: Employees suffering from mental health issues may qualify for FMLA leave or support under the ADA.