Signs of mental health issues at work: yours and others'

By Eve Ash

July 17, 2017

Do you share an office with a person who’s dug themselves into a bad place over months or years – maybe hoarding archival paperwork, folders and books in an obsessive sulky way, or subjecting you to constant rants about hatred of the job, hatred of the people, hatred of life in general, or maybe just morose even when things are seemingly going well?

Have you reached a point where you feel you don’t have the emotional space or the actual time to listen any longer? Or are you in a rut drowning in bad feelings about life, people and work?

Seek counselling

When things grow too big to handle it is time to get professional help. If someone is making you feel bad, start with getting help yourself, about how to deal with it. If you have a good HR team they can sometimes help. Every organisation should have a relationship with workplace/occupational consultants/counsellors if they don’t have the expertise in-house.

It doesn’t always work to tell someone else to go get counselling. You may not have the skills. Find the right person to offer support to the person in distress. Start with the impact on work performance and/or others in the team.

It may be that someone is experiencing problems at home with a child, or sick family member. If destructive moods continue, a manager needs to resolve the issue, involve a professional and perhaps make alternate arrangements. Flexible work-from-home options can help resolve some difficult patches.

Doing more for wellbeing at work

Of course, not every organisation will have counselling on tap. However, with the growing casualisation of the workplace, there are and will be many casualties. Not everyone thrives on the seeming “agility” of bouncing around from gig to gig, let alone coping with feeling depressed about their work prospects. Workplaces can and need to do more for people’s wellbeing – 45% of Australians experience mental health problems at some stage during their lives. It is a mistake to assume this won’t impact ultimately on an organisation’s business interests.

Organisations and managers could start by:

1. Committing to a variety of well-being initiatives

This should be on paper and in practice. Start with using programs that are free on the internet eg Stop Smoking initiatives, healthy eating, exercise plan, ergonomic seating principles etc. Then consider the at risk aspects for your workplace, and relevant employment laws, and create programs to benefit your people. Consider needs and budget, then design programs, implement, monitor and evaluate.

2. Demonstrating awareness

Share policies so everyone is informed. Make it a talking point at team meetings and planning days.

Make sure everyone knows who to speak with if things are tough. A number to call, someone reliable and helpful who can assist.

3. Be sensitive to changes in behaviour and appearance

Don’t ignore unusual behaviour for that individual – absenteeism, sudden emotional extremes (silent, depressed, happy, crying, sulky, angry, extreme defensiveness and blaming and long disappearances during the day).

A person’s general appearance and demeanor can tell a lot about their inner state.  We all have the latent ability to read another person’s cues.

4. Look after yourself

If it’s you that’s suffering, seek help as soon as you can. Not everything can be solved via do-it-yourself mindfulness techniques, lots of exercise and improved eating, cognitive therapy quick-fixes, etc. Nor is it necessarily good to unburden yourself on strangers, acquaintances and work colleagues. When circumstances are fraying your mental health, seek help from a caring, wise professional.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. This article was first published by The Mandarin’s sister publication SmartCompany.

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