Now more than ever it is likely that your employees need help. The pressures and demands they feel are leading to burnout and breakdown at a record-breaking pace. When employees remain overwhelmed for an extended period of time, they are susceptible to developing a mental illness or experiencing heightened symptoms of an existing mental illness.

Do you know the state of your employees’ mental health? Do you feel equipped to look for warning signs? This can be a tough topic for employers, which is understandable. Individuals who have a mental illness don’t necessarily look like they are sick, especially if their illness is mild.[1]  And many people feel that mental illness is rare, something that only happens to people with life situations very different from their own, and that it will never affect them.[2] This is very far from the truth. In fact, the surgeon general reports that mental illnesses are so common that few U.S. families are untouched by them.[3] If it happens in families, then it translates directly to your workplace.

One way you can help your employees is to increase your knowledge of the signs someone may exhibit when they need help.

Physical Signs

One of the easiest ways to spot trouble is through physical signs. Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns and an increased sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells and touch[4] are signs that might alert you that someone needs professional help.[5]

Mood Signs

Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions, depressed feelings, nervousness, odd or uncharacteristic behavior, and an inability to cope with problems and daily activities[6] are important signs to be in tune with.

Social Signs

Withdrawal, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, and loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity[7] are clues that someone is struggling.

Cognitive Signs

An unusual drop in functioning, such as quitting sports or failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks may signify someone is feeling challenged.

As an employer, it’s important to understand that a person who has a mental illness cannot simply decide to get over it any more than someone who has a different chronic disease such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease. A mental illness, like those other diseases, is caused by a physical problem in the body[8] and should be treated accordingly.

You should also be aware that stigma or negative stereotypes about groups of people,[9] is one of the greatest challenges surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness today. Indeed, many people who successfully manage their mental illness report that the stigma they face is in many ways more disabling than the illness itself.[10]

Be encouraged, though, that even the smallest, caring action towards someone who might be suffering can alter the course of their day or even their life. By being aware of the signs someone might display when they need help, understanding they need professional help, and helping to reduce the stigma, you can foster a supportive and thoughtful environment at the workplace. Seeing beyond what’s in front of you into the whole person can have far-reaching impacts, both for you as an employer, and most importantly, for them.

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. 2000. Retrieved July 8, 2001, from http://www .surgeongeneral .gov/Library/MentalHealth/home.html. [Reference list], [2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. 2000. Retrieved July 8, 2001, from http://www .surgeongeneral .gov/Library/MentalHealth/home.html. [Reference list], [3] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. 2000. Retrieved July 8, 2001, from http://www .surgeongeneral .gov/Library/MentalHealth/home.html. [Reference list], [4] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20369/, [6] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness[7] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness, [8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20369/, [9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20369/, [10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20369/



Brooke Kelly

About Brooke Kelly

Brooke Kelly leads the Client Health Promotion Team at Blue Cross NC. She enjoys teaching personal resilience workshops and helping employers succeed with their worksite wellness offerings. Brooke loves watching football, traveling, and spending time outside with her son and daughter.