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How to identify a mental health issue at work

27 Feb 2017
Stressed woman holding her hands up to her face

Once you’ve recognised that a colleague has a problem, there are a number of techniques for you to successfully manage the situation. Here’s what to look out for...

Back in 2007, the Department of Health (DoH) launched a programme called Shift with an aim to "reduce the stigma and discrimination directed towards people with mental health problems".

Of course, many aspects of our working lives have changed significantly since then but the signs that a colleague has a mental health issue remain the same.

The DoH produced a booklet for line managers to help them provide support to colleagues. It states that, “Some of the key things to look out for are changes in a person’s usual behaviour, poor performance, tiredness and increased sickness absence.

“A normally punctual employee might start turning up late or experience problems with colleagues.

“Other signs, particularly if someone is depressed might be tearfulness, headaches, loss of humour and changes in emotional mood. As a manager you should be aware of the wider organisation’s impact on employees.

“It might be the case that certain tasks, work environments, times of the day or particular teams are more likely to be associated with people experiencing difficulties.

“It’s helpful to make a distinction between ‘pressure’, ‘stress’ and ‘mental health problems’. Everybody may feel under pressure but not everybody suffers the adverse reaction of stress or a mental health problem. Also, everybody reacts differently – one person’s spur to action is another’s nightmare and a cause of paralysis at work.”

Once you’ve recognised somebody may have a problem how do you manage to tackle it and make your colleague feel comfortable discussing his or her emotional state?

The DoH recommends, “regular work planning sessions, appraisals or informal chats about progress are all ordinary management processes which provide neutral and non-stigmatising opportunities to find out about any problems an employee may be having.

“You might find it helpful to use open questions that allow the employee maximum opportunity to express concerns in his or her own way.

"If you have specific grounds for concern, such as impaired performance, it is important to talk about these at an early stage. Ask questions in an in an open, exploratory and non-judgmental way.

“When talking to an employee, the three points to remember are: don’t assume stress affects everyone equally. Make adjustments if a person is stressed, and ‘chats’ should be positive and supportive – exploring the issues and how you can help.”

Further reading

Shift is a practical guide, produced by the government, to managing and supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace

WeThrive has produced an ebook titled: A practical 8-point guide to stress, anxiety, mental health, resilience and wellbeing for HR Directors.

ACAS has produced a YouTube clip titled Mental Health Guidance for Employers

Mental health in the workplace

The IoD is committed to raising awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, with a particular focus on opening up the conversation for small and medium-sized businesses. We have created a hub packed full of helpful advice, best practice and useful resources, as well as shared experiences from business leaders.

Visit our mental health in the workplace hub

Get involved in the conversation  or use the hashtag

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