Mental Health in the Workplace – Let’s Talk About It.

Mental illnesses are health problems that affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us. They impact our thoughts, feelings, abilities and behaviours. Some days it can come in the form of an emotional breakdown, and some days it can be a haze that makes an individual slow or unmotivated.

As an employer, co-worker, manager or friend, spotting the signs of someone suffering from mental health is not always easy, but can be pivotal to their well-being. Mental illness is more common than you think, with 1 in 5 Canadians experiencing mental health problems or addiction.

Early recognition of mental health problems, referrals to the right resources, and adequate treatment can help people reach a path of well-being. Employees can and do reach their full potential when they have the right supports in their life, including those at their workplace. 

While you may believe that an employee is simply acting out of character, they could very well be exhibiting the first signs of mental illness. Watch for changes in the behaviour of your peers. Mental health is not a one size fits all kind of thing; therefore, you’ll need to know your colleague’s personality and habits. This will make it easier to pick up on any changes in behaviour, as behavioural signs aren’t always abrupt.

Some changes in behaviour to look out for are:

  1. Frequent absence or constant work
  2. Overeating or undereating 
  3. Constantly tired 
  4. Changes in physical appearance 
  5. Changes in work output, motivation levels and focus 
  6. Increased smoking, drinking or drug use 

Every employee is a human being. Every human being will face stress in their lifetime. One of the most noticeable early signs of mental illness includes stress reactions: headache, stomach-ache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. In addition, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.

Talk About It.

You can help erase the negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviour that still exists towards mental illness by simply talking, educating and providing quality information to your organization. 

Would you make fun of a diabetic for taking their insulin? No. So why discriminate against an individual on medication for an anxiety disorder? In the end both individuals are happy and healthy.  

By simply creating a culture that erases the stigma and shows compassion and empathy you are introducing an open communication policy. Individuals will feel comfortable stepping forward and talking about their mental health. 

When you have spotted one or many of these signs in yourself, a co-worker or an employer, what should you do?

  1. Go to your HR department. Your HR team will be able to point the individual in need in the right direction and provide the necessary resources to your company’s employee assistance program. The individual can work with HR to create a work environment that best supports their mental health.  
  2. Express empathy and support. If you feel close enough with this individual set up a meeting with them. Inquire how they are doing, express concerns over noticed patterns of behaviour. It is crucial to listen, refrain from judgement and stay calm. 

As important as it is to spot the signs of a mentally unwell co-worker, it is equally as essential to communicate the importance of mental well-being. Invest in the mental health of your people, use a tool to keep your workforce aware of an EAP, plan and communicate mental wellness activities, and check-in on a regular basis. Mental health deserves the undivided attention of each and everyone, there is no health without mental health. 

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