Mental Health in the Workplace: How we all need to recognize the signs

Racepoint Global

Mental health awareness week offers us all a unique opportunity to talk about issues that often do not get much airtime in the workplace.   Early in my HR career someone who had been struggling with depression was brave enough to reach out to me, and as I look back, I realise I did not support them very effectively at the time.  It seems so much easier to deal with health issues that are more tangible (like cancer or a broken limb) than mental health issues that do not necessarily have a very specific treatment or clear recovery period attached to it.

What I learned from that experience is that knowledge is power.  In the case of mental health, knowledge comes from doing some research and becoming aware of some of the signs to look out for when talking to friends and family, some of whom may be desperate to talk to someone about how they’re feeling but don’t know how to start the conversation.

At work, managers and colleagues play a key role in looking for those signs.  A 2011 report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) called “Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers”  contains a comprehensive list of symptoms that fall across three core categories: physical, psychological and behavioural.  Physical symptoms may include regular headaches, sudden weight gain or loss, visible tension or trembling, or fatigue.   Perhaps you’re noticing psychological signs like tearfulness, indecision, distraction or confusion, or a loss of sense of humour.   Examples of behavioural changes include increased smoking or drinking, a resigned attitude, uncharacteristic errors, or apparent overreaction to problems.

Offering and actively promoting an employee assistance programme (EAP) as part of your suite of employee benefits is a solid foundation to start from.  The EAP we offer at Racepoint Global gives staff the chance to confidentially explore how they’re feeling, and provides advice on mental health coping techniques that can support them to thrive in a busy, fast paced environment.   They can take a mental health “mini check” which provides depression and anxiety scores, and gives advice and guidance on what to do if they’re concerned about their mental health.  The EAP also offers a confidential one to one counselling service that an employee can explore without having to declare their situation to their manager.

The Mental Health Foundation website provides a wealth of information about their work, how you can get involved in mental health awareness week (#MHAW17) and a variety of mental health resources.   Building our own personal awareness alongside growing the same awareness in work colleagues means we’re more likely to be equipped to identify mental health issues early and provide appropriate intervention before problems worsen.