How Do You Tell If An Employee Is Struggling With Their Mental Health
How do you tell if an employee is struggling with their mental health?
The pandemic has created undo stress on working families with more than eighty percent of workers reporting worry about their mental health, a figure that is nearly double the number of workers who are concerned about their physical health. (1)
Economic concerns, more time spent working, changing information and misinformation regarding vaccines, loss of enjoyable activities or hobbies due to isolation, and an increase in substance abuse to cope are all cited as reasons workers are struggling. For working parents, the added toll of remote schooling and ever-changing schedules is causing enormous frustration and stress.
Many employees are unwilling to discuss their mental health because their companies have not normalized conversations around well-being. But severe declines in mental health can’t be masked for long. Some of the signs of an employee who may be struggling:
- An unhealthy or unkempt appearance/abnormal appearance: Many people with mental health issues find it difficult to keep up their appearance and may have poor hygiene habits, dress inappropriately at work, etc.
- Mood swings, emotional rollercoasters, and erratic behavior: Even at work, mental health problems can result in mood swings and inconsistent emotions, where there may be extreme highs and lows. Behaviors may seem strange and/or turn unusual quickly as well.
- Easily irritated, frustrated, or angered: The anxiety and stress associated with mental health problems mean many people get frustrated or irritated easily. This can be noticed in how they approach projects, react to co-workers, etc.
- Taking or needing a lot of time off: Employers often associate mental health issues and time off with “mental health days.” While many people may just need a day off when suffering from a mental illness, these conditions can also cause a variety of additional, physical problems that require care and time away from work.
- Changes in eating or sleeping behaviors: People with mental health concerns may not show drastically evident symptoms, but even things like never eating at lunch, refusing to eat with co-workers, and a lack of sleep/insomnia are all serious signs of mental health issues looming.
- Moments of confusion or an inability to solve a problem: If you notice your employee is having a difficult time focusing, solving problems, or is easily getting confused, it could be a sign of a mental health issue.
- Unnecessary fear, worry, or anxiety: Employees with mental health problems may be paranoid about co-workers or employers, anxious about keeping their job, have fears about unnecessary things, etc. These fears and anxieties are typically beyond a normal rationale.
- A decrease in or lack of productivity: Whether it’s because of fatigue, lack of sleep, anxieties, or something else, mental health issues make it hard to focus and be productive. If you find an employee’s productivity is down, it may be a symptom of a deeper, mental illness.
- Withdrawal from social situations, especially with co-workers: Employees who seem withdrawn from co-workers and the social culture at the company may do so as a symptom of mental illness. Many people with mental health concerns suffer from isolation, loneliness, and self-loathing.
- Abuse of drugs, alcohol, or other vices: Employees with mental health issues may turn to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or another addiction. This is typically a more urgent sign that your employee needs help.
How can you help?
Companies should be investing in training managers about the signs and symptoms of a mental health problem. Many companies are now regularly conducting Pulse Surveys (2) to assess the stress and anxiety levels of employees. In addition, the combined tool of ConnectedMind/Beyond Well allows each employee to self-screen for mental health vulnerabilities. The user is given direct, non-stigmatized information regarding their results and potential next steps for treatment and help. All of this is accomplished without interference by a supervisor or boss, who may not be properly trained in supporting an employee with a mental health issue.
Mental health concerns are unlike other performance-related issues and must be approached with care. You must be empathetic to the person’s concerns, issues, and personal problems without attempting to solve or interfere in their lives. It is crucial to provide your employee with the space and freedom to express themselves and speak openly and to gage whether there is undue pressure at work that is causing the decline in mental health. Learning to empathize, practice active listening, and provide referral and support are not skills many managers are trained to do. Beyond Well works one-on-one with your teams to learn the soft skills needed in today’s hybrid/remote/on-site environments.
How your Employee Can Find Help
Every employee has the right to seek help if they are willing. This can be accomplished via employee assistance programs, paid time off, or private health insurance coverage. Managers should be trained in the benefits/shortcomings of each choice, including the long waiting lists and high deductibles of many programs. Encouraging the employee to discover more about their symptoms and behavioral challenges with Beyond Well’s library of podcasts, guest-hosted by a team of psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and social workers.
Every employee should download a copy of their free Connected Mind screening report to discuss any concerns with a physician or counselor. While most health insurance programs provide coverage for mental health-related prescriptions, treatments, and therapies, it is essential for employees to engage with human resources to understand all work-provided options and benefits. Many employees are wary of engaging with HR due to fear that they could be discriminated against, demoted, or fired. Managers need to provide assurance regarding federal protections for people suffering from mental health challenges.
Being alert, educated and empathetic to employees is what matters most when it comes to mental health. For more information on Connected Mind/Beyond Well (3)
Screening: Take A Screening Now
Podcasts: Listen Now
Sheila Hamilton is a five-time Emmy award winning journalist and the author of All the Things We Never Knew, Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness. She is CEO of Beyond Well Media and host of Spotify’s fastest growing mental health podcast, Beyond Well With Sheila Hamilton.