Health and safety procedures are often focused on the physical risks that we face at work. However, controlling for mental health risks is also vital.
One in every six workers is struggling with mental health issues, according to recent reports by UK mental health organisation Mind.
In addition, it has been estimated by the National Health Service (NHS) that one in every four people will go through mental health problems at some point in their life. And Work-Related Stress, Anxiety or Depression Statistics in Great Britain are on the rise, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
It is likely we will all encounter somebody who is struggling with mental health at work. We may find that we are struggling with mental health issues of our own. Just as we should act to provide first aid and assistance to a person who has been physically injured, it is important that we all know how to help someone who has mental health problems – in particular if that person is us.
In this piece, we will provide you with information on common mental health problems that people suffer from, look at the causes and symptoms and outline ways in which you can help someone who is struggling with mental health.
Common Mental Health Problems
The most common mental health issues people in the UK face in the workplace and in their private lives are stress, depression and anxiety, as reported by the HSE. These mental health problems were also the most consistently reported reason for workplace absences as of March 2022.
It is important to make the distinction between these types of common mental health problems and mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD).
While many people who experience stress, depression and anxiety can resolve their issues with counselling or support, some mental health disorders require specialised treatment that may involve medications or hospitalisation.
Anxiety is an umbrella term that covers a range of thinking, emotional and behavioural symptoms. These include nervous thoughts that lead to poor concentration and decision-making. It covers feelings such as a sense of dread, irritableness and even panic.
Common physical symptoms include dizziness, sickness and exhaustion. All of these symptoms fall under what’s known as generalized anxiety disorder or GAD for short.
Most people will have times in their life when they are feeling a little down or unhappy. However, when feelings of sadness persist for weeks or even months, then they can result in depression.
Depression is defined as constant feelings of sadness, listlessness, unhappiness and hopelessness. Depression can cause sleeplessness, irritability and loss of focus. Cases of depression can be severe, or they can be mild. Often, people who are suffering from depression also have symptoms of anxiety.
Stress is ‘the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure’, as defined by the NHS. While low levels of stress can be good for us, high levels of constant stress pose a real risk to our mental health.
Too much stress can lead to feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted and can take a significant toll on our physical health. People who are experiencing high levels of stress often feel overwhelmed, have racing thoughts and may overeat or overindulge in bad habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking.
Causes of Mental Health Problems
The prevalence of mental health issues in UK workplaces has been exacerbated by the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Changing work environments, the pressure of lockdowns and the fear of catching and spreading the coronavirus are all major factors in the increased rates of reported mental health problems.
However, there are also many other reasons why a person may be struggling with mental health issues. Increased workloads and unrealistic deadlines are the biggest causes of mental health problems in the workplace. Excessive workloads and unfair deadlines often lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
External factors can also negatively impact a person’s mental health. Common causes of mental health problems not related to the workplace include:
- Poor health, whether your own or a family member’s
- Mental Health Stigma
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Domestic violence
- Childhood trauma
- Financial problems
- Family issues
Signs of Mental Health Problems
Changing behaviour can be a warning sign that someone is struggling with mental health problems in the workplace. These signs can include:
- Absenteeism – calling in sick more than is usual
- Presenteeism – working too much, even when you are ill
- A decline in productivity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems with morale
- Alcohol or drug misuse
Other signs include:
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Frequent complaints of being tired
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Mood swings and erratic behaviour
- Being overly tense, anxious or scared
- Being socially withdrawn
How to Help Someone Struggling with Mental Health at Work
For many people struggling with mental health issues, it is difficult to ask for help or to know when they need assistance. However, there are ways in which we can all act to help yourselves and others who may be struggling with mental health at work.
First of all, keep an eye out for warning signs of mental health problems. If something seems wrong with someone, don’t be afraid to ask them if they are OK.
“I get the feeling that something is bothering you lately, is everything all right?”
Remember that there may be a stigma attached to admitting to mental health problems. Someone may be afraid to talk, or not want to bother you with their problems. In this case, it doesn’t hurt to check again.
“Are you sure everything is okay?”
“Well, actually, things have been difficult lately…”
If something about a person’s behaviour seems strange to you, don’t ignore it. Keep in mind the warning signs to look out for. Bear in mind that it is not your job to resolve the issue. But it is important to at least say something supportive that could spur the person into seeking help.
This is not just true for others, but also true for yourself. If you know that you don’t feel right, speak up and get support. Remember, getting a second opinion never hurts and the solution may be simple.
Finding Help for Your Own Mental Health Problems
A GP is a good first choice to talk to about mental health problems. A GP can assess the severity of your issues and refer you to a counsellor or psychiatrist if need be.
If that doesn’t seem appropriate, it is important that the workplace has an open understanding culture that makes people feel they can seek support. Talk to your manager, the person in charge of HR, or a friend or colleague you trust. There also may be a mental health first aider available to speak with in your organisation.
How to Maintain Good Mental Health
Take a moment to regularly assess your own mental health. If the way you think about problems regularly causes anxiety and stops you from enjoying life, then your worrying is a problem that you should address.
If you’ve had symptoms of mental health problems for many months, then seek professional help. Your doctor can provide you with initial advice. A trained mental health first aider will also be able to advise where you can get help.
Staying active, sleeping well, and maintaining a healthy diet can help you to maintain good mental health. Our previous blog sets out ways to improve mental health by making lifestyle changes. It is always important to ask for help if you feel you need it.
If you are concerned about mental health problems in your workplace, then mental health awareness training will assist in creating an open, positive and supportive working environment where people can discuss and find help for their mental health problems.
You can find a range of mental health online training courses on the Human Focus website. They have several mental health courses that will provide you and your co-workers with the knowledge and skills needed to support people who are struggling with mental health.