Indicators of poor mental health can be physical, psychological or behavioural. As a significant proportion of our lives are spent at work line managers and colleagues are in the unique position to see how individuals operate daily and often the first to spot changes in behaviour that may indicate an individual has a mental health concern. The trouble is that people can get so swept up in the daily demands of their role, that they don’t have time, or forget to look out for common signs that someone is struggling. With the cost of poor mental health in the workplace ranging between £33-42bn each year, businesses need to get better at spotting and supporting mental wellbeing concerns.

  1. Spot behavioural changes

Changes in normal behaviour, such as becoming quick to anger when an employee is usually more measured, or vice versa, can be an indicator that their mental health is compromised. As humans we experience a complex variety of emotions regularly, but if out-of-character behavioural patterns become frequent or problematic it could be a sign that a colleague requires support.

  1. Promote self-care

Whether taken at work or in their personal lives, many employees engage in the consumption of stimulants – be it caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, for example. But using stimulants to the extreme, where it affects work can raise alarm bells regarding an employee’s mental health. Caffeine could be masking sleeplessness, alcohol erasing painful memories, or nicotine calming feelings of anxiety. Employers can look out for signs that usage of a stimulant is problematic and signpost employees to appropriate support.

  1. Get to know your team

Employees are all different when it comes to sharing details of their personal lives in the workplace, some will wear their heart on their sleeve, whilst others may disclose very little about their personal lives. The crucial factor here is to learn how to listen properly. Personal stories can reveal that an employee has lost their appetite, that their sleep is suffering or they no longer enjoy previously relished activities – all of which can provide indicators as to the state of someone’s mental health. Employers can then be in a position to decide if they deem it necessary to signpost them to support.

  1. Don’t let staff burnout

Employees may find themselves suddenly incapable of dealing with previously manageable tasks. Delegating activity to others or showing indecisiveness can both be signs that an employee is struggling with their mental health. An employee may seem quiet or withdrawn or be unable to concentrate or lack motivation where they’d previously been enthusiastic. Anxiety disorders can be crippling for employees – making the day-to-day suddenly feel overwhelming. Early diagnosis and appropriate support, instigated by employers, can help staff manage challenging situations more effectively.

  1. Take notice

A common misconception is that just because a mental health issue is psychological, it does not manifest physically. However, trembling, chest pain and sweating are just some of the physical symptoms that can indicate a mental health issue. In the workplace some of these physiological indicators of compromised mental health can be more apparent. Without jumping to conclusions, employers can note these physiological indicators and decide whether intervention is appropriate.

Starting the conversation

For employers who understand that mental health can affect any of us at any time, putting in the right processes and creating a culture where employees feel safe talking about their problems is important.

There’s a lot of support that businesses can offer, from mental health first aid training which enables staff to spot the signs of poor mental health and signpost colleagues to support – through to offering direct access to an employee assistance programme which can also be a great way to support people. So rather than observing employees at a moment in time – when organisations remember to keep an eye out for mental health in the workplace – it’s important that support is an ongoing and organic process where it is constantly monitored, and help is offered if needed.

Employers can promote health and wellbeing by creating a supportive environment to help identify individuals that could be at risk, including encouraging individuals to talk openly about mental health. Whilst a line manager is not expected to be a qualified counsellor, it is important that some are trained to recognise the warning signs of mental ill health and know how to signpost employees to relevant support, and this can also have the added benefit of improving working conditions for the wider team.