Guest blog by Psychotherapist Noel McDermott
Mental health problems at work are common with many workers experiencing problems such as anxiety and depression. However, many employees feel unable to discuss their mental health in the workplace, fearing it is a taboo subject and they will be judged by their employers or negatively impact their career.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments, “We live in a society where companies are willing to go to great cost ensuring their employees have gym access to maintain their physical health yet the same provisions aren’t made to preserve their mental health. The workplace can be a central component of some people’s mental illness and it is crucial proper support channels are established.”
Signs that an employee/colleague is having mental health problems at work
· Classic signs of problems spilling over into work are multiple small absenteeism’s, a day here, a day there all occurring in a relatively short time frame. Three or more of these episodes in a month should trigger an automatic human resources process to ask an employee if there are problems. If you notice a colleague having a series of absences like this then you may want to ask if everything is okay. Mostly the type of problems your colleague will be having are domestic short-lived ones, such as childcare issues, but it could be a sign that something more serious is happening.
· Specific signs that these problems are mental health or stress based are rapid changes in weight, big changes in mood or demeanour, increases in use of alcohol, talking about having lots of fears that don’t seem connected to real things or seem very exaggerated. Your colleague or friend may express feeling very hopeless about themselves, or their lives, or say they feel they are a failure or burden. If the conversation is fears based they may be struggling with anxiety, if they express hopelessness and feel like a burden it could be depression.
· More serious mental health problems could present as your colleague being paranoid, believing they have special powers, seeming to be having dialogues with themselves, or being confused about current events or things happening in their lives. These could signal problems around psychotic functioning. If they seem unusually happy for days or more, get involved in spending compulsively, or hyper-sexual behaviour it could signal mania.
· Issues around drugs or alcohol could manifest as multiple absences on Monday’s. Other serious indications could be an obsession with going out and drinking or using, having blackouts, not remembering the events or a heavy session, personality change when drinking and debts forming to meet the cost of using.
How to take care of your mental health in the workplace
It’s important to start with the basics here; good sleep hygiene and getting enough sleep; eat healthily and a reasonable times and regularity; hydrate properly; keep active; have a good social network; engage with nature, go for walks in your local park, or to walks in the countryside.
Another idea is to engage in specific things that help create resilience to mental health issues and reduce the intensity and longevity of any you do have. Learn mindful meditation or develop another form of meditative practice or activities such as yoga, running, swimming, cycling etc. The core of a mediation is management of breathing. Learn about mental illnesses as forewarned is forearmed, maybe go on a mental health first aid training course. Talk about your fears and problems and share them to reduce your stress about them and so you get help when you need it.
Why people suffer from mental health problems in the workplace
Some jobs are more associated with pressure and stress than others and some jobs expose staff to risk in ways that can and often do lead to mental health problems, such as the army or police. But in general, most workplaces don’t or try not to. So most mental health problems people experience at work are ones they bring in with them, in fact work often helps people reduce their mental illness issues, for example getting people back to work is usually a key aim in treating anxiety and depression as isolation creates more stress.
Why people have mental health problems is a complex interaction between issues that may be inherited, impact of adverse childhood experiences and adult adverse experiences, isolation and drink or drug misuse. The complexity is that these are simultaneously symptoms and causes of mental illness.
Areas in which employment practice can produce mental health problems:
· Long hours and intrusion of work into social and home boundaries, working too long reduces productivity and creates stress, and stress creates illness. Also, employers who expect staff to respond to emails and work issues outside of working hours create stress in employees.
· Bullying – without a doubt this can create severe and long-term mental illness issues, including suicidal behaviour.
· Night shift working creates both mental health and physical health problems.
Being a workplace that looks out for the mental health of its employees does more than create a healthy work environment but has proven benefits to productivity.
Noel McDermott is a pioneering health and social care professional with over 25 years of industry experience. He is passionate about bringing high quality care and support to those who are vulnerable. Noel’s areas of expertise include mental health, emotional health and wellbeing, childcare, trauma, social care, addiction and recovery, distance therapy, refugees and personal development.