Spotting an Employee Experiencing Poor Mental Health

Unlike physical health, spotting the signs of someone suffering from mental health isn’t always that easy. You may have an employee that may be quieter than usual or not interacting with the rest of the team as they used to and while it might seem out of character there could be showing the first signs of being mentally unwell.

This week our experts tell you what the biggest signs are and what you should do when you recognize one of your employees isn’t doing so well with their mental health

Nick Patel

It is often difficult to identify an individual who has a mental illness.  This is often because the stigma associated with having a mental disorder results in employees not being open about discussing it.  The best way for employers to identify employees needing mental health assistance is by creating a culture where it is ok to discuss mental health and by training leadership.  Managers should be trained to promote discussions of mental health in the workplace and to recognize employees with mental illness.


Nick Patel, CEO of Wellable.

Renae Shaw

Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) offer some great advice on how to spot signs that someone might be suffering with mental health issues. Unfortunately, symptoms vary from person to person so it’s important to know your employee’s personality and habits well as this makes it easier to spot if something is out of the ordinary. Interestingly, some mental health problems can trigger physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, stomach upsets or being withdrawn. It can also cause erratic behaviour and difficulty remembering things. The most important thing is to take time to get to know your staff members well so that it is easier to spot atypical behaviour. At Search Laboratory, all our managerial staff are trained in Mental Health First Aid so they can identify symptoms quickly and can be the first to notice and help.

Renae Shaw, Head of HR at Search Laboratory.

Lee Keyes

The most noticeable early signs will include stress reactions: “A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.”


Dr. Lee Keyes, is a Psychologist and Emeritus Director at the University of Alabama.

Emma Mamo

It’s important to remember everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different and there may be no outward sign. You should never make assumptions about people’s mental health but some changes to behaviour might include:

  • Changes in people’s behaviour or mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • Changes in their work output, motivation levels and focus
  • Struggling to make decisions, get organised and find solutions to problems
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and losing interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed
  • Changes in eating habits or appetite
  • Increased smoking or drinking

If you think an employee may be experiencing a mental health problem, take the lead and raise this with them. A good way to start is to just ask how they are doing

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind.

Brendan Street

Don’t set out to spot depression or anxiety in your employees, you need to keep vigilant for subtle changes in the way an employee is at work. For example, if an employee that was always punctual and smart, starts being late every day and appears dishevelled. Or a previously popular, relaxed and productive employee is less productive, slightly irritable and sits on their own at lunch.

By looking for changes, not diagnoses, there’s less pressure – you don’t have to be an expert about all types of mental illness. Once aware of a change book in time with the employee in a confidential space. Begin the conversation by letting the person know you have noticed they aren’t their usual self.

Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health.

Shona Davies

The signs of mental ill health can vary greatly from one person to another so it’s very useful to know the employee in their “usual” self in order to spot changes in behaviour. Stress can lead some people to become quite aggressive whereas others may contract in on themselves. It’s normal for people to experience some stress at work but if it becomes prolonged and/or the changes in behaviour persist, it may be worth taking the employee aside and asking them how they’re getting on.

Shona Davies, Founder of Shona Davies Consulting.

Chieu Cao

Unlike when you’ve broken a leg, in which case you’re often given a clear diagnosis and an estimated road to recovery, from a mental illness perspective things aren’t always as easy. Spotting mental wellbeing issues that arise in the workplace is, in other words, the equivalent to treating an illness that varies drastically on a case-by-case basis. This means the detecting stage is very hard to do. However, creating an environment of psychological safety and taking the time to truly understand and learn how to read your employees will help to achieve this better.

Chieu Cao, Co-Founder of Perkbox.

Lucy Faulks

There is no one sign that shows that people are struggling with their mental health and the signs can range from physical to behavioural. Common physical signs would be feeling excessively tired, weight loss or weight gain, an obvious lack of self-care, acting or moving lethargically. Behavioural signs to look out for include being agitated or irritable, experiencing mood swings, lacking motivation or being apathetic, being overly emotional or having a lack of emotion. Alcohol and substance misuse are also a common sign of mental ill health so it’s important to know the signs of these.

Lucy Faulks, Co-founder of Elevate.

Paula Whelan

If you know your employees / team members well it is usually easy to spot when someone is going through a hard time, but there is no simple way of knowing if they have a mental health problem. In most instances you don’t need to know. It’s more important to respond sensitively to someone who seems to be having a difficult time than to find out whether or not they have a diagnosis.

If you notice changes in behaviour, mood, performance or motivation; difficulty in making decisions or getting organised; or someone appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and losing interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed these could indicate a mental health issue – however don’t make assumptions about their mental health.

Paula Whelan, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Right Track Learning.

Nicole Thurman

I think it comes down to knowing your people. Employers can look for things like work decline, absenteeism and even slight changes in personality. If someone who is usually outgoing and talks a lot all of a sudden becomes very quiet, that could be an indicator. In my experience, and watching some of the professionals that I work with, it’s really just about asking questions, listening and making time for people.

Nicole Thurman, Vice President, Talent Management at CHG Healthcare.

By Ushma Mistry

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