Recognizing Signs of Mental Illness & How to Intervene Professionally

Mental illness is still a sensitive subject for many people. Discussing signs of mental illness in the workplace can be even harder to bring up.

Thankfully, awareness of mental illness is growing and we're beginning to see a shift toward openness surrounding mental health in the workplace that is long overdue.

iRewardHealth Recognizing Signs of Mental Illness

According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people globally are affected by depression. A majority of those people are also suffering from anxiety.

Recognizing the signs of mental illness is vital to promote mental health in the workplace will equip you to intervene appropriately.

Common Signs of Mental Illness

When you work with someone every day, changes in their habits or behavior may not be easy to identify. While some signs may be more obvious than others, paying close attention to employee behavior is important to identify subtle signs of mental illness.

Here are some common signs of mental illness to look for in the workplace.

  1. Changes in Sleep or Appetite – Identifying changes in employee sleep or appetite patterns can be difficult. If your employees' sleep or diet change so wildly that you begin to notice, they may be dealing with mental illness or a significant life stressor that needs to be addressed.
  2. Mood Changes – Watch out for rapid or dramatic shifts in coworkers' moods in a short period. According to the DSM-V, a significant and prolonged worsening of mood could be a sign of depression.
  3. Withdrawing or Avoiding Interaction – An employee who is ordinarily social who begins to withdraw from social interaction or collaboration with peers may be struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety.
  4. Increased Absenteeism or Tardiness – Employees who are usually on time and start coming in late, missing deadline or meetings, or calling in sick may be suffering from stressors that can increase risk for mental health.
  5. Changes in Physical Appearance – If an employee's grooming and overall appearance have begun to slip, it could be a sign of mental illness.
  6. Decrease in work performance – A top performer who begins turning in poor quality projects may indicate diminished caring or engagement.

On their own, each of these examples of employee behavior may not indicate mental illness. However, if an employee suddenly begins exhibiting several of these symptoms, he or she may be struggling with a mental illness like generalized anxiety disorder or major depression.

Preemptive Measures to Protect Your Employees

There are specific measures you can take to help your employees improve their mental health. By taking steps to alleviate some of the inevitable stress of daily life, you can help minimize the risk of mental illness in your employees and promote a company culture of caring and compassion.

iRewardHealth Recognizing Signs of Mental Illness

Educate Your Management Team

Help your management team familiarize themselves with signs of mental illness. If your team leaders are looking out for symptoms of anxiety or depression, identifying those who need help most will be a natural next step.

Manage Stress

Partner with local gyms, yoga studios, and spas to offer stress relieving options to your employees. Having access to these perks can help your employees feel appreciated and give them a way to unwind after a day of work.

Additionally, take care not to overwork employees or create other stressors in the workplace such as isolated work environments. Thankfully, the days of cubicles are gone in most work environments.

Encourage Healthy Eating

Provide healthy snack options over junk-filled vending machines. According to Neuroscience News, eating too much junk food raises the risk of depression. Since employees often develop a habit of visiting the vending machine at specific points in the day, the point of "too much" can be achieved rather quickly.

Having access to snacks like fruits and vegetables in the workplace will allow workers to take care of their hunger pangs without resorting to food that could harm their mental health in the long run.

Allow for Breaks Outdoors

The BBC states that time outdoors can correlate with increased happiness and healthiness.

Encourage employees to take breaks outdoors. When weather permits, a moment outside in the fresh air can increase vitamin D production and do wonders for mental health.

Provide Enriching Workshops

Allow employees to attend workshops that teach work-life balance and discuss mental health and well-being. Workshops give employees the actionable steps and tools they need to deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression before their mental health takes a turn for the worse.

Cultivate Discussions About Mental Health

Make sure your employees feel comfortable discussing mental health by being candid about the subject. Introducing the topic of depression or anxiety in meetings may encourage employees to be more open to discussing their mental health.

iRewardHealth Recognizing Signs of Mental Illness

Additionally, establish ground rules for your management team about what to do if an employee reaches out for help. Doing so will reduce in-the-moment decision making errors and ensure such cases are handled gently and with respect.

For instance, if an employee comes to you about his or her mental health, allow for the employee to feel comfortable by moving the discussion to a private place. Whether or not your employee is depressed, talking to someone about the subject can help one's mental state significantly.

Resources for Mental Illness

If you're going to cultivate a culture that removes the stigma of mental illness, it's vital to have resources available to employees.

Some companies provide employee assistance counseling services where employees can call and confidentially discuss any issues in the workplace, home, and social relationships.

Many may consider counseling services to be just a "work perk." However, according to the Mayo Clinic, access to councilors or psychologists could be vital to improving overall mental health for individuals struggling with depression.

Along with references to counselors or medical professionals, make sure to let your employees know HR is available to them to assist with any issues or concerns they may have as well. Sending out regular newsletters or posting reminders in the break room may be all it takes for someone to realize help is available.

Let's get a discussion going and break down the stigma by replacing fear of mental illness with compassion and understanding. What are some signs of mental illness you've seen around your workplace?

If you have questions about how to handle certain situations, let us know in the comments below and we'll do our best to help.

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Sarah O'Neil
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Sarah O'Neil

Employees will be more likely to discuss their psychiatric symptoms with bosses if leadership sets an example by discussing their own, treated psychiatric issues openly. It’s a brave step for leadership to take and its one that will contribute to a mental health stigma free work environment.