How to Spot the Signs: Mental Illness at Work

January 29th marked the annual Bell “Let’s Talk” Day – a day aimed at encouraging conversation to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Changes in work habits are chalked up to poor performance, when the root cause is actually a mental health concern.”

It’s an important topic, since 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. With those statistics, chances are good that mental illness affects someone in your workplace. With the stigma surrounding mental illness, employees who are struggling may be reluctant to come forward. As a result, mental health concerns often go unrecognized and unaddressed, leading to bigger problems for the organization and the employee.

Mental illness can have a big impact on our workplaces, but it isn’t always easy to recognize what it looks like.

Would you know if your co-worker was struggling with a mental illness? Here are 6 signs and symptoms to watch for:

1. Changes in work habits. Often, changes in work habits are chalked up to poor performance, when the root cause is actually a mental health concern. Lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating or lower-than-normal productivity isn’t necessarily a performance management issue, so it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions.

2. Changes in physical appearance. Personal grooming and general appearance slipping? If a coworker who typically arrives for work immaculately groomed starts regularly violating your dress code policy by showing up unkempt in a holey sweatshirt, it could be an indication that they’re having difficulty coping.

3. Changes in demeanour. Dramatic changes in personality or demeanour can indicate mental health struggles. Exhibiting excessive nervousness, restlessness, or irritability; seeming passive, worried, tense or acting in unusual ways are all changes to look out for.

4. Increased absenteeism or tardiness. When an employee who’s usually on time starts showing up late, missing meetings, or calling in sick more often, it could be a sign of a mental health disorder. Physical complaints, aches and pains, excessive fatigue, or just seeming generally “draggy” can be signs associated with depression and anxiety.

5. Outbursts and mood swings. A lack of control of emotion, outbursts and mood swings could be associated with mental illness. Does an employee seem unable to deal with the little things? Disruptive behaviour, flouting rules, or acting overly aggressive can all be mental illness red flags.

6. Seeming withdrawn or avoiding interaction. An unwillingness to communicate, seeming withdrawn, avoiding social situations, self-imposed isolation, or retreating from interactions with others can be a sign of mental illness. If a co-worker seems to avoid engaging socially with other team members, it could be cause for concern.

Noticed some of these signs and symptoms at work? Here are 6 simple ways to end stigma and start a conversation in your organization.

Your Engaged Assignment: Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of mental illness in the workplace, and get talking with your team. Knowing what to look for is the first step to opening a productive dialogue surrounding mental health. While you can’t force someone to be comfortable disclosing a mental illness, you can and should leave the door open for conversation and support.

Want to know more about mental health? Here are 15 ways to support on-the-job mental health.