How to spot mental wellbeing issues with your employees

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Health Assured team

02 February 2018

Being aware and able to spot signs of mental health in the workplace in adults who could potentially be suffering from mental health issues is a valuable ability to have as an employer or manager.

Not only will it allow you to offer help and care to your staff early on, but it will also potentially change their life and make a positive impact. It is important to remember that everyone’s experience with poor mental health is different, so symptoms can vary from person to person.

Read below to find out some of the most common symptoms of mental health at work, learn what are the first signs of mental illness in women and men, and ensure that it prepares you to help any employees who may need it.

What are the 5 signs of mental illness?

It’s easy to miss some early warning signs of mental illness. There are some common signs to look out for regarding an employee’s wellbeing.

There are 5 common signs that you should look out for:

  1. Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  2. Extremely high and low moods
  3. Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety
  4. Social withdrawal
  5. Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits

Remember, if you spot one of these signs, it doesn’t always mean someone has a mental health issue. It could signal an underlying health problem or something else entirely.

However, different mental health issues have their own unique symptoms. Let’s look at some common issues and the warning signs of these mental illnesses in adults.

Common mental health problems

There are several mental health conditions you will more commonly see in a working environment. These may not directly affect work performance, but positive mental health and wellbeing will lead to a more engaged and productive workforce.

These mental health problems are called 'common' because combined they affect more people than other mental health problems (up to 15% of people at any one time in the UK.)

Some people may have more than one mental health problem (such as depression and anxiety). Here is a list of the more commonly found issues:

Symptoms of depression

This is usually feelings of flatness or lowness, a lack of engagement with things they previously were engaged with and a loss of enjoyment of their hobbies. There will often be a change in appetite and they will be more irritable.

Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder

As a person with this condition will have constant worrying. Due to this, they are often on edge and irritable, restless or tired because of being tense all day. Because they focus their mind on worrying, it is often hard for those with anxiety to concentrate on a topic or task.

Symptoms of panic disorder

Similar to generalised anxiety but the symptoms manifest far more so in physical ways. Unexpected and recurring panic attacks are common, and worrying about having another panic attack. One symptom of a panic attack is an increased heart rate.

Symptoms of OCD

Those affected have obsessive thoughts that are difficult to get rid of. They manifest as strong feelings that the person must carry out or repeat certain physical acts or mental processes This can be fears of germs/dirt, worrying about the safety of things and obsession over the order/layout of things.

Symptoms of PTSD

This is a disorder that comes about after a traumatic event in someone’s life. There may be a feeling of reliving the event through flashbacks or nightmares. There can also be physical reactions, such as shaking and sweating.

What are the early signs of mental illness

Due to the difficulty in diagnosing mental health issues and the stigma, individuals feel like they can come forward with issues. Mental health concerns often go unrecognised and unaddressed, leading to bigger problems for the organisation and the employee.

You can create a mental health positive environment to help combat this, but you still need to keep an eye open for early signs.

If you spot the signs of mental illness in men and women early, you can make a much bigger impact with your support.

We can classify symptoms into three levels of severity. An individual may be experiencing differing levels of severity for different symptoms simultaneously. The levels of severity are:

  • Mild: A few symptoms, with little effect on day-to-day
  • Moderate: More symptoms that can make their daily life much more difficult than usual.
  • Severe: Many symptoms that can make their daily life extremely difficult.

By identifying these signs before they reach a severe state and providing support, you can allow your employee to manage their work life and personal life together effectively.

Physical signs

A panic attack can be an incredibly frightening experience, and several physical symptoms can happen all at once.

Someone who is suffering a panic attack at work may begin to shake, sweat, struggle to breathe or experience a choking sensation.

They may feel as if their heart is pounding at a rapid rate—or that they can feel pain in their chest. This may all cause them to feel as though they’re having a heart attack, or going to die.

We can associate panic attacks with mental health problems such as anxiety or panic disorders. Professional help (for example, CBT for anxiety) and/or medication can ease these, making day-to-day life much easier.

Psychological signs

Psychological signs can be more difficult to spot and may require you to be extra attentive towards employee wellbeing. These psychological signs can include:

Distraction and confusion

While it may be hard to spot these symptoms in your team, you may have concerns that one of your employees is suffering, but paired with any other signs, it can signal that there is a mental health problem occurring.

Lapses in memory

Memory lapses can be one of the more noticeable psychological signs in a person and can often lead to confusion or disorientation. Several things can cause memory lapses, including overwhelming stress or experiencing trauma.


Noticing that a team member is tearful can signal problems in their personal life, or perhaps they may suffer from stress or ill mental health.

Regardless of the reason, they may benefit from someone to talk to or support from their co-workers.

Behavioural signs

Most times, we can misinterpret behavioural signs as a poor work ethic or etiquette and can result in an employee being wrongfully reprimanded.

If you notice any of these signs in your staff members, it may be worth speaking to them or offering help instead of punishing them. Behavioural signs of someone struggling with mental health can be: 

Anger or aggression

Increased irritability or anger in an employee can be a tell-tale sign of anxiety or other disorders, especially if this is an employee who usually has a calm and collected personality.


If an employee has taken risks that seem out of character, or appears to be making more impulsive decisions without thinking through the consequences, this can be an implication of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Disorders such as these will require the help and support of a mental health professional.

Increased absence

Notable increased absence in an employee may initially lead you to disciplinary action. However, before this you may want to consider speaking to them to ensure they’re not facing personal issues. Offering help and support to your staff may help to decrease absence if there is an underlying cause.

What can you do?

You now have some more information about some potential signs of ill mental health. So, you can look out for these within staff and offer any necessary support.

Take extra measures to ensure employees feel cared for and supported, and so implementing an employee wellbeing service may be an excellent step to take.

A wellbeing programme will show that you are committed to caring for your staff and giving them the support they need to be happy and healthy at work — something you may not personally be able to provide.

As an employer you can only do so much, however, so encourage your employees to look to their support network of friends, family members and mental health professionals.

You can do this by making employees aware of resources such as the national suicide prevention lifeline. This ensures they receive support in all areas of their life.

Improve wellbeing with an EAP

This is where employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are so useful. Providing employees with confidential 24/7 365 support, wellbeing and mindfulness resources online via the Wisdom app as well as access to counselling and therapy. 

Get in touch today to hear more about how we can help you improve wellbeing in your workforce and drive productivity. 0844 891 0352 

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