How to spot, and respond to, mental health problems in your business

helping staff with mental health issuesEach year around ten million adults in the UK will experience mental ill health, meaning one in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lifetime.

Over the past decade, mental health awareness has accelerated, and more and more employers now understand that mental health is not only a serious issue for society but for businesses too.

With ‘mental health in the workplace’ as the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, we asked Poppy Jaman, CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, to share her advice on how to look out for, and respond to, signs of mental ill health in your employees.

Addressing mental health problems benefits your business

World Mental Health Day offers employers a valuable opportunity to address how mental health is approached in their organisations. For start-ups and SMEs, particularly, a company culture that fails to address mental health issues could be detrimental to the future of your business.

Start-ups and small businesses often rely on the talents of a core group of team members, so retaining these people is essential to ensuring continuity for clients and further growth.

Consequently, when smaller businesses are under significant pressure to achieve targets, wellbeing support can often fall down the agenda and employees end up feeling under-valued rather than supported.

Equally, the Mental Health at Work Report 2017 reveals that with three in five (60%) employees experiencing mental health issues where work was a related factor, having the necessary support available in the workplace is paramount.

To prevent stress or other mental health issues affecting your team, it’s important to recognise that a positive workplace culture that supports people experiencing mental health issues starts at the top.

This is why line managers have such an important part to play in better supporting the mental wellbeing of employees in SMEs.

Signs of mental health problems

Here are just some of the signs of common mental health issues to look out for in the workplace:

Physical signs

  • Frequent headaches or stomach upsets
  • Suffering from frequent minor illnesses
  • Difficulty sleeping or constant tiredness
  • Being run down
  • Lack of care over appearance
  • Sudden weight loss or gain

Emotional and behavioural signs

  • Irritability, aggression or tearfulness
  • Being withdrawn, not participating in conversations or social activities
  • Increased arguments or conflict with others
  • Erratic or socially unacceptable behaviour
  • Loss of humour
  • Indecision, inability to concentrate
  • Increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and/or sedatives
  • Being louder or more exuberant than usual
  • Loss of confidence
  • Difficulty remembering things

Signals an employee may need help

Look out for these signs in the workplace that an employee may need support with their mental health:

  • Increased errors, missing deadlines or forgetting tasks
  • Taking on too much work and volunteering for every new project
  • Working too many hours – first in, last out, emailing out of hours or while on holiday
  • An employee who is normally punctual frequently arriving late
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Becoming fixated with fair treatment and quick to use grievance procedures.

Practical tips on how to help staff

If you think a colleague may be exhibiting these signs, here are some practical tips for how you can start the conversation about mental health.

It might seem a little daunting to do so but it’s important to remember you don’t have to be an expert.

Choose a setting

  • Make a cup of tea, coffee or grab a cup of water. Whichever you choose it’s a great way to ask someone a quick ‘how are you’ and ask for a private meeting
  • Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t appear to be in a hurry. 10 minutes may be enough but if you need longer then go ahead
  • You don’t want to be disturbed so turn your phone off or onto silent
  • Meeting outside the workplace in a neutral space such as a café might feel less intimidating

How to ask the questions

  • Keep the chat positive and supportive, exploring the issues and how you may be able to help
  • Keep your body language open and non-confrontational
  • Be empathetic and take them seriously
  • Do not offer glib advice such as “pull yourself together” or “cheer up”
  • Take into account cultural differences in communication styles such as how much eye contact is appropriate

Useful questions to ask

  • “How are you feeling at the moment?”
  • “How long have you felt like this – is it an ongoing issue?”
  • “Who do you feel you can go to for support?”
  • “Are there any work-related factors which are contributing to how you are feeling?”
  • “Is there anything we can do to help?”

How to listen

  • Give the person your full focus and listen without interrupting
  • Listen to their words, tone of voice and body language – all will give clues to how they are feeling

Once you’ve started the conversation, make sure you keep it going – follow up with the person and ask them how they are doing. Reassure them that your door is always open, and really mean it.

It’s particularly essential to keep in touch with an employee who is off sick.

For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who is experiencing a mental health issue, you can download a free Line Managers’ Resource from MHFA England.

You can also find help here;

Mental health training

Awareness and talking about mental health openly, is a great first step in creating a mentally healthy organisation. But to better support employees, transform practices and truly embed a whole organisational approach to workplace wellbeing, employers need to make mental health training a priority.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Poppy Jaman, CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, and CEO of City Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of London based businesses working to increase understanding of mental health issues and to create a culture of good mental health in the City.

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