When Mental Health Challenges Impact Work: How Managers and Co-Workers Can Help

Work is one of the main causes of mental health challenges — one in three workers have experienced mental health problems, with two-thirds of sufferers citing work as a contributing factor. Amidst all the stress we face in the workplace, mental health is perhaps the most difficult. Not only does mental health determine our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, it also has a significant influence on how we respond to stress in the workplace.

Complicating the issue even further, mental health is typically difficult to spot. Left unchecked, it can greatly alter workplace culture, impact careers, and affect businesses. In honor of Mental Health Month, I feel there is value in addressing what is oftentimes viewed as taboo to discuss at work and the role that managers and co-workers can play in providing support.                                                                                                        

Prevalence of Mental Health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 1 in 5 individuals in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year — 4% of whom experience it at such an intense level that it significantly interferes with their lives. Moreover, 6.9% had at least one major depressive episode in the last year.

Mental health is an issue we should remain vigilant of, but how do we spot it in the workplace? There are numerous warning signs, including:

  • Changes in work habits, including declining work ethic or increased nervousness, restlessness, or irritability.
  • Increased absences or lateness.
  • Sudden outbursts or mood swings, especially with increased aggression.
  • Being withdrawn or avoiding communication with other co-workers.
  • Unusual responses to workplace stress.

In isolation, each of these signs could potentially point to other issues, but a combination of any may be enough to generate concern for mental health illness.

Support of Mental Health: Manager’s Perspective

As managers, we must acknowledge and respect the role that mental health can play with our staff. Our environment plays an important role in our mental health, and fostering healthy well-being at work can prevent problems from escalating. High levels of stress can exacerbate existing mental health problems, so tackling the causes of stress-related challenges at work is an important step in prevention. Managers should establish a healthy balance between work and personal life, avoiding anything that interferes with the boundaries between work and home. Managers should also make themselves available to all employees so that they can discuss their issues openly so that employee wellness is top of mind while continuing to advance critical work for the organization.

But acknowledgment alone isn’t enough. We must then take it a step further and work to improve employee well-being. This can include implementing mental health days and sufficient time out of the office to visit mental health care professionals.

Support of Mental Health: What Co-Workers Can Do

Co-workers are in a different position than managers, but they have just as much opportunity to be an open ear. Offering to listen often helps more than you can imagine. As co-workers, we’re also in a position to offer assistance to projects that mental illness struggles may make it difficult to complete.

If you have an immediate concern for your safety or the safety of someone else, immediately consult with your manager or Human Resources. Elevating the issue will raise the level of concern to others who may be better equipped to assist.

Moving Forward in the Workplace

To become even more responsive, consider taking learning courses on employee wellness in the workplace. This sort of training prepares participants to directly deal with conflict at work, creating a safer, more nurturing environment. When employee wellness is taken care of, we all become more effective, efficient professionals.