Spotting and dealing with mental ill-health at work can be very complex.

Depending on the type of business, it could be easy to overlook an employee’s or colleague’s symptoms of mental ill-health. For example, some businesses may see higher rates of stressed employees than others due to the nature of the work they do. 

But how might mental ill-health look in the workplace?

A mental health condition may not always affect work performance. But retaining a healthy workplace environment is important for all staff in increasing or maintaining positive mental health.. 

Here are some mental ill-health symptoms to be aware of in the workplace:

An employee who may…

  • …..suffer sudden prolonged sadness, cynicism, negativity or irritability
  • …have unpredictable mood swings
  • …display excessive fear or worry
  • …appear withdrawn from both the workplace and social events
  • …display sudden changes in eating or sleeping habits 
  • …miss deadlines, is forgetting tasks or complaining about the workload
  • …. engage in frequent conflicts with other staff members
  • …take an increased range of absence

These symptoms in isolation do not automatically mean that an employee is suffering from mental ill-health. But a consistent combination of some or all of these may mean someone is struggling.

Possible early warning signs of mental ill-health

Depression & Anxiety 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety: (Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Panic disorder, phobias, PTSD, ASD)

Each of these mental health conditions comes with its own symptoms. However many symptoms may overlap. For example, Depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder can both have symptoms which may display a low mood, or excessive mood swings.


Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Sudden, decreased productivity
  • Low morale or motivation
  • A lack of cooperation (with regards to tasks, colleague relationships)
  • Sudden complaints of increased tiredness
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism 
  • Sudden complaints of unexplained and undiagnosed aches and pains

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder may include:

  • Displaying or communicating sudden increased levels of fear or worry
  • Inability, or difficulty in making decisions
  • Continually seeking reassurance
  • Sudden and constant complaints of aches and pains including nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, and muscle aches and pains
  • Decreased concentration, productivity and memory

Eating Disorders

Symptoms of eating disorders may include:

  • Sudden or drastic changes in weight
  • Avoiding mealtimes or situations which involve food
  • Eating excessively with significant changes in diet
  • Complaints regarding frequently being too cold (commonly found in anorexia nervosa where there is low body weight and therefore low body temperature)
  • Withdrawal from social circles and activities, especially if food is likely to be present at the activity 
  • Low self esteem and negative self-perception 
  • Displaying strong feelings of aggression, sadness or worry

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Symptoms of OCD may include:

  • Workaholism, i.e staying late, working through holidays, not taking time off or sick days
  • Perfectionism resulting in missed deadlines or late work
  • Inability to delegate tasks to other team members
  • Having an excessive focus on timetables, schedules and rules

Panic Disorders

Symptoms of panic disorders may include:

  • A person suddenly hyperventilating
  • Complaints of heart palpitations, sweating and lightheadedness
  • Showing excessive worry or anxiety
  • Withdrawal from social situations and from work 
  • Loss of concentration and motivation, resulting in late or missed deadlines 
  • Non-compliance with work requirements, i.e an employee who may need to travel to other sites may suddenly refuse for fear of experiencing an attack

Supporting mental health in the workplace

Managers and line managers can play a crucial role in the wellbeing of employees. Line managers can receive training so they are adequately equipped with the best skills in order to support employees who may be experiencing mental ill-health.

One such way to equip line managers appropriately is to undertake Mental Health First Aid training so that they receive the tools, skills and confidence to be able to support and assist an employee who may be in need.

Additional strategies employers can pursue to support employees’ mental health are:

  • Promoting openness and inclusion around mental health by holding events and expressing openness and support for anti-stigma campaigns
  • Placing confidential self-assessment sheets in break-out rooms, on bulletin boards or as part of an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) 
  • Promoting EAPs and engaging employees with wellbeing programmes
  • Incorporating mental health as a part of policies and procedures, such as managing mental health related absences and supporting returns to work 
  • Adopting an all-level approach to mental health which offers staff awareness, staff training, updated policies and procedures and offers appropriate support systems 

To enroll your employees or line managers in Mental Health First Aid training, click here to view our courses. Or contact us for any further MHFA queries you may have.