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The goal of this blog is to provide useful information on every aspect of workplace health - from wellness and injury prevention through to rehabilitation and recovery at work.

The flags of mental illness: Signs to look out for in employees & colleagues.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Mental illness, for many, is very much an internal struggle. It's not often that you sit in the common area at work and a colleague begins to discuss their depressed mood; nor as a manager are you likely to have employees rushing to arrange meetings with you to discuss their mental state. In fact, a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that, even in a mentally healthy workplace, 36% of employees would not approach their manager if they were mentally unwell, 43% would not approach HR, and 66% would not want anyone in the workplace to know they were experiencing a mental health condition. 

With a lack of help-seeking from such a large proportion of workers, many psychological injuries will fly under the radar unnoticed, only to worsen over time. There are, however, overt symptoms or behaviours that are commonly associated with a range of mental health disorders, which can aid in detecting if something is not quite right. Keeping an eye out for these behaviours or ‘flags’ can assist in opening up the mental health conversation with a colleague or employee, and allow you to encourage them to seek help early.  

Here are some of the common ‘flags’ to look out for: 

  • Absence -- repeated and unexplained time off work, frequently taking longer lunch or toilet breaks, engaging in frequent or long personal phone calls.

  • Mood -- dramatic shifts in feelings or emotions, erratic reactions to things, increased irritability or aggressiveness.

  • Behaviour -- an increase in hostile behaviour, blaming others for poor performance, decreased communication, being nervous or suspicious of others, engaging in risk-taking behaviours or activities, increased injury or accidents at or outside of work, conflict with colleagues, giving away things such as clothes or gifts, self-harming (e.g., cutting).

  • Withdrawal -- a decrease in attendance to work events, a lack of interaction with others, a drop in social activities e.g. quitting sport, isolating oneself in group settings.

  • Health -- increased or significant tiredness, often sick or run down, change in eating behaviours whether it be significant overeating or restrictions, change in appetite – usually a lack of, decline in personal hygiene or presentation, substance use prior to or during work (drug/alcohol), significant changes in weight or physical health, persistent musculoskeletal pain complaints.

  • Performance -- reduced quantity of work, avoidance of additional work, decrease in work quality, increased errors, poor time-management, difficulty concentrating or staying on task, frequently passing work duties onto colleagues  

Having support structures in place for employees struggling with mental illness is a great first step; however, ensuring that they utilise these services when needed is a battle of its own. Remember - early intervention is key! 


Gianna Manzini is a consultant psychologist (provisional) at Actevate Pty Ltd


References: 
https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness 

https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8 http://returntowork.workplace-mentalhealth.net.au/early-warning-signs-mental-health-problems-work 

https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/age-13/mental-health-conditions-in-young-people/suicide/warning-signs-for-suicide

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