Spotting the signs of mental ill health


I set up a peer to peer support network at the company I work for (BT). It allows anybody who has been through or got experience of dealing with mental illness to be able to speak to anybody in the ...

Read More Graham Carrington
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Despite approximately one in four adults in the UK experiencing mental ill health each year, the topic still remains a taboo subject in the workplace

There is a tendency for employees to not disclose their mental ill health out of fear of their employer’s response, including the associated perception of weakness. Amid this prevalence of under-reporting employers should look to spot the signs of mental ill health early on, so that steps can be taken to support workers. With mental ill health costing UK businesses more than £30 billion every year it is in every employer’s interest to pay attention to mental health.

While everyone’s experience of mental health is personal, some common red flags to look out for include:

  • Looking tired and paying less attention to their appearance than normal.
  • Producing a lower standard of work and making uncharacteristic mistakes.
  • Decreased concentration levels and taking longer to complete tasks.
  • Poor timekeeping and increased absences from work.
  • Heightened emotional state or withdrawal from social interaction.

As well as being engaged with their employees so that employers can spot where people may be struggling, organisations should take steps to develop a culture where staff feel able to talk openly about their mental health problems.

Positive actions that employers can take to improve levels of mental wellbeing at work and support employees with mental ill health are:

Offer training

Steps should be taken to truly understand mental health through training and possibly offering mental health first aid training to nominated employees. Fifty-six per cent of employers currently believe that they do not have the right training or guidance in place to improve staff wellbeing, so clearly this is an area that needs more focus.

Lead from the top

The World Health Organisation cites inadequate health and safety policies, inflexible working hours, unclear tasks, poor communication and management practices as some of the biggest risks to mental health. Change needs to happen from the top, with senior managers undertaking healthy behaviours themselves and ensuring that they manage staff fairly. Managers should be encouraged to champion mental health awareness by taking an interest in their staff members’ wellbeing and being supportive.

Foster an open environment of communication

Employers need to establish a culture that eliminates the stigma of mental ill health through utilising positive language, introducing support networks, staff surveys and wellbeing events, and entering into open and honest dialogues with employees.This will allow more employees to obtain the support they need.

Put procedures and reasonable adjustments in place

Whether an employer decides to implement a dedicated mental health policy or simply adapt existing policies, support processes should be clearly outlined so staff are armed with the relevant knowledge when required.

Employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments where an employee’s mental ill health constitutes a disability. This applies even where the employer has not been told directly, but should have reasonably known when presented with warning signs. Reasonable adjustments can include making changes to working hours, re-allocating workloads, and implementing flexible working arrangements where appropriate.

Create a healthy and supportive working environment

From offering mindfulness sessions and organising team activities to encouraging people to take breaks away from their desks, there are various options for employers to achieve a healthy working environment.

Taking steps towards creating a positive workplace will ultimately lead not only to happy productive employees but also a healthy business.

Louise Lawrence is a partner in the employment team at Winckworth Sherwood


I set up a peer to peer support network at the company I work for (BT). It allows anybody who has been through or got experience of dealing with mental illness to be able to speak to anybody in the company if they need to talk. It's made massive differences and saved lives. Current volunteers are from UK, Ireland, France and Switzerland. It's all done voluntary over and above our day job. Best thing I've done in BT in my 30 years of being there

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