Mental Health in the Workplace

Maintaining good mental health amongst employees is a vital part of a strong and productive workplace. A survey conducted by the Scottish Needs Assessment Program showed that between 30-40% of all absences from work are related to mental health problems, but everybody has mental health needs that have to be addressed. As the average person spends eight hours at work every day the workplace environment plays a significant role in a person’s mental wellbeing.

Mental Health Issues Associated with the Workplace

  • Stress – this is the most common mental health issue associated with the workplace. In today’s target driven atmosphere the pressure to perform can often escalate to dangerous levels. This has only worsened since the change in the economic climate as people feel that their jobs are at risk if they fail to out-perform their colleagues.
  • Dissociative Disorders – feeling disconnected from others is common in workplaces where physical divides separate colleagues. Strong communication skills are vital to mental wellbeing and can affect performance greatly.
  • Depression – while everyone feels down from time to time, some people suffer from extreme feelings of despair, loneliness and desperation. While there are many factors that contribute to depression there are numerous ways of helping while in the workplace. Sufferers of depression can be lethargic, unmotivated and stop caring about their work which many employers can misconstrue instead of advising treatment.
  • Anxiety Disorders – the effects of anxiety can seriously affect an employee’s performance, especially if interaction with other people is important to their duties. Anxiety can often occur in conjunction with depression and escalate into more serious disorders.
  • Break Downs – while extremely rare it is possible, if left unchecked, for an employee to sink into a psychotic state where they lose touch with reality and must receive treatment from a trained professional. The causes of such serious conditions are always complex and occur when lots of different factors are brought to a head by a catalyst such as being fired or losing a loved one.

Are there Any Warning Signs I should look for?

As a work colleague or employer you will probably have got to know the different personality traits of each person in the workplace. While we all have our own little quirks, a sudden change in any of the following behaviour patterns could be a sign of a developing mental health issue.

  • Increased absence or poor time-keeping
  • Poor performance
  • Withdrawal from social situations or shyness (such as ‘water cooler moments’)
  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances (including tobacco)
  • Constant tiredness or lethargy
  • Back ache or other pains

If you notice any of these symptoms in a colleague it does not necessarily mean that they are suffering from a mental health concern, it is not your job to diagnose them. The best thing to do is to talk openly and frankly to them while expressing your concern in an unthreatening and caring manner. Do not confront them or call them into your office in the same way you might do to discipline them; find a time where you will not be interrupted and can talk privately without having to rush to another engagement.

Ways to promote Mental health and Wellbeing in the Workplace

There are plenty of things you can easily do in order to maintain a happy, productive and healthy workplace. These range from making yourself seem more approachable to re-arranging the office plan to employing an office councillor with specialist training in mental health issues. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Create an open, caring workplace. Every workplace has its own ‘personality’ and dynamic which is based on the people who occupy it and the lay-out of the space. Let employees know that they can always find someone to share their problems and concerns with. You may want to do this in co-operation the Human Resources team if you have one or even bring in an outside team to give a talk or training session.
  • Help your employees become healthier. Healthy eating and exercise play a big part in maintaining mental health. Make sure that there are sufficient supplies of water around the workplace that are provided free of charge. You could even supply fresh fruit for employees to eat while at their desks and work with the kitchen staff to make sure that an affordable healthy option is available. Organising an office football team or taking trips to outdoor pursuit centres are also ways of promoting a healthy body and a healthy mind.
  • Giving leeway when it comes to medical care. If you do have colleagues who are suffering from mental health concerns you must not make them feel that they are being discriminated against. Not only could this have legal implications but their treatment depends on the care of others while they themselves are vulnerable. Allowing time away from the workplace to attend therapy sessions will help massively and will also inspire loyalty in employees.