Everyone has days when they feel unable to cope and are stressed or worried. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a mental health problem which can have an affect on the person’s daily life and activities.

Research undertaken by the Mental Health Foundation shows that most people have some experience of a mental health problem.

Sadly, over 6,000 people a year die by suicide in the UK. Having a long-term mental health problem may reduce life expectancy by as many as 21 years, due also to physical health problems which are often associated with poor mental health. It's therefore expedient that World Mental Health day, this year, focused on suicide prevention.

How can employers help?

In 2017, the government published Thriving at Work - a review of mental health and employers. It sets out six core standards for employers drawn from best practice and the available evidence base. These encourage employers to:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available to employees who are struggling
  • Provide employees with good working conditions
  • Promote effective people management and
  • Routinely monitor employee and mental health and well being

It does seem that some progress is being made. Many organisations are starting to develop well-being policies and encouraging employees to be open about their mental health and to seek support.

However, despite some high profile campaigns designed to reduce the stigma around mental health, many people don't want to admit that they are struggling. It is therefore important for employers to take active steps to help staff by being aware of the 'warning signs' and, supporting staff through difficulties.

Spot the warning signs

Everyone is different. A good starting point however is to consider whether the employee's behaviour is out of character. For example, is the employee having difficulty making decisions? Has s/he become disorganised, started making mistakes or working much longer hours than normal? Some people may become irritable or overreact to criticism, appear to be more sensitive or become tearful during ordinary conversations. They may become pessimistic and sceptical and lose trust in people, act aggressively or blame others for their own mistakes.

If an employee is demonstrating all or any of these behaviours it doesn't necessarily mean the employee does have a mental health problem and there may, of course, be other reasons for the behaviour. Either way, it can form the start of a conversation and open dialogue.

Intervene early

If you are worried about a member of staff, speak to them about your concerns. The meeting should be held somewhere private where they will not be disturbed or overheard. Try and approach the meeting with an open mind and don't make assumptions about the employee or the reasons why they are distressed or worried. You need to listen to what the employee is telling you, consider what you can do to help (particularly if it is work related) and meet regularly to make sure that any adjustments you make are helping. If they are not, are there any other steps you can take?

Train your managers

Speaking to someone about their mental health is not easy and your staff are likely to feel uncomfortable about having these sorts of conversations unless they know what to expect and how to deal with distressed members of staff. Good training will help them develop the skills they need and improve their confidence.