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Recognizing Signs of Mental Health Struggles in the Workplace


In today's fast-paced and demanding work environments, it's crucial to pay attention to the well-being of our colleagues.With increasing global and financial pressures, more and more employees come to work already feeling burdened and overwhelmed. Mental health conditions can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or profession. According to the American Psychiatric Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health conditions in their lifetime, with half of all cases starting by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24. Despite the prevalence of these issues, less than half of those affected seek help, leading to significant costs for employers and profound personal challenges for individuals.

Recognizing the signs of common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety is the first step toward supporting colleagues in need. Here are four signs to watch out for and tips on how to offer assistance:

Signs of Depression:

Changes in Sleep Patterns: Be attentive to colleagues who are experiencing trouble sleeping or sleeping excessively.

Emotional Changes: Notice if someone seems persistently sad, withdraws from social activities, or loses interest in things they used to enjoy.

Difficulty Concentrating: Pay attention if a colleague struggles with decision-making or concentrating on tasks.

Physical Symptoms: Look out for changes in appetite, fatigue, or restlessness.

Signs of Anxiety:

Excessive Worry: Be mindful of colleagues who express constant worry or fear about various aspects of their lives.

Physical Symptoms: Notice if someone experiences rapid heart rate, trembling, sweating, or gastrointestinal issues.

Emotional Changes: Be aware of increased irritability, nervousness, or a sense of impending danger.

Sleep Disturbances: Pay attention if a colleague has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Addressing mental health issues should be done by a professional, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Supporting an employee who is grappling with a mental health concern requires a multifaceted approach rooted in empathy and proactive engagement. This entails fostering a workplace culture that prioritizes open communication, where employees feel safe discussing their mental health challenges without fear of stigma or judgment. Providing flexible work arrangements and tailored support services demonstrates a commitment to accommodating the individual needs of employees navigating mental health issues. Educating oneself about the specific condition affecting the employee fosters understanding and enables more effective support. Regular, meaningful check-ins serve as opportunities to gauge the employee's well-being and offer assistance as needed, while normalizing conversations about mental health contributes to a supportive environment where employees feel valued and understood. Offering practical support, respecting privacy, leading by example in prioritizing mental health, and consistently following up to ensure ongoing support and well-being further reinforce the organization's commitment to its employees' holistic well-being. 

One aspect of mental health in the workplace is burnout, or the feeling of exhaustion from too much stress and not enough support. Ways to avoid burnout include:

  1. Taking care of yourself: Mental health is a situation where investing in yourself will always pay off. Prioritize exercising, eating well, and getting sufficient rest. The NIH states that lack of sleep has “been linked to depression…and risk-taking behaviors”. You may not be able to control things at work, but you can help yourself by making good choices for your body outside of work. 

  2. Fix what you can, and release the rest: If there are people at work that stress you out, work on establishing parameters in your interactions with them. Little changes often add up to big differences in everyday quality of life. Don’t allow work to come home with you when possible, and if you have done what you can then you can allow yourself to relax when off the clock. 

  3. Make meaningful connections: Community is a huge part of humanity, and just because a job may not be as fulfilling as expected, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make the best of it and enjoy the people around you. Spread acceptance and invest in others so that you are making a meaningful contribution to the workplace. 

Addressing mental health in the workplace isn't just about improving productivity—it's about fostering a compassionate and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and supported. By breaking down stigma and encouraging help-seeking behavior, we can create healthier and more resilient workplaces for all.


Information based on “Knowing the Warning Signs” from The Center for Workplace Mental Health, a division of the American Psychiatric Association. 

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