This article has been prepared in partnership with the Black Dog Institute.
We spoke with Aimee Gayed from the Black Dog Institute’s Workplace Mental Health Research Team to understand the commons signs and symptoms of mental illness, and what can be done to treat and prevent it.
Common signs of depression
What are some of the common signs of depression we might notice in an employee?
When an employee is depressed, they may appear low, empty, flat or sad; sometimes they can be irritable or even just have difficulty meeting deadlines which may be out of character for them. Other ways that co-workers can show signs of depression include decreased interest or pleasure in certain activities, significant weight changes (without any dietary changes), or even tiredness that comes from difficulty sleeping.
Employees who may be experiencing depression can also appear physically and mentally slowed down, seem fatigued, or even show low energy levels. Depending upon your relationship with your employee, they may also express feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or even verbalise recurrent thoughts of death.
Noticing some of these signs in an employee may highlight that they could be suffering from depression.
Common signs of anxiety
What about anxiety – what are the common signs that someone may be struggling with anxiety?
There are some signs that are common to both depression and anxiety, like difficulty sleeping, appearing fatigued or low in energy, difficulty with concentrating, and being more irritable than usual. Additional symptoms someone with anxiety may display can include frequent worrying, fear of losing control/going ‘crazy’/dying. They may appear tense or restless, be sweating more than usual, seem like they have difficulty breathing, and they may avoid certain activities.
The importance of self-care
What are the best self-care tips you can recommend to a busy small business owner to help them stay mentally healthy?
It can be hard for small business owners to separate themselves from their work. However, it is essential to have time away from work, and to also have interests outside of work to keep well and maintain productivity when they are working. There are programs available, like HeadGear, which can help people strengthen their mental health and stay well. However, if you feel like you need some help, speak to your GP to find out what options and support systems are available for you. If you’re not ready to speak with someone yet, there are great programs like MindSpot that individuals can refer themselves to.
Mentally healthy workplaces
How would you define a ‘mentally healthy’ workplace? What are the characteristics?
A mentally healthy workplace addresses key mental ill-health risk factors present within that work environment to minimise their potential impact on an individual’s mental health. Protective factors are also fostered and maximised to help individuals build resilience.
These factors include:
The design of the individual jobs within the organisation to reduce demand and increase individual control;
Factors within the team, such as support and effective leadership from supervisors; and
Organisational characteristics, including how much the psychological health of employees is valued by senior management and the level of support that is provided for mental health issues
When these factors are considered collectively rather than in isolation, better mental health outcomes can be achieved, and it can lead to reduced absenteeism, increased employee engagement and improved productivity.
What you can do as an employer
What are the things an employer should do to help an employee who is struggling with mental health?
An employer may be told by the individual or by someone close to them that they are experiencing mental health problems. Or the employer may notice changes in their employee’s behaviour or performance at work that may indicate a mental health problem. Regardless, an employer can play a key role in the recovery of mental ill-health of their employees.
Initiating an accepting conversation with an employee about their mental health as early as possible, and continuing the conversation can help employees feel supported. Finding ways to help the employee better manage their workload can also ensure they maintain their sense of achievement through work, which can be vital in their recovery without feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, determining whether they are already seeking help or if they need some information on where to go for assistance can help employees.
Establishing regular one-on-one catch ups with each staff member can also ensure you have built rapport and create an ongoing opportunity where initiating a conversation about their mental health will be made easier.
Looking at it from the other side, what should an employer do if they suspect an employee is struggling with their mental health, but won’t talk about it or hasn’t broached it with them?
Employees may not always be ready to talk about their mental ill-health, and they may not engage or seem like they want to discuss what’s going on for them when their employer initiates a conversation. However, knowing their employer is supportive of their mental health condition and willing to help them in ways, such as managing their workload, is helpful for employees. Regardless of how the conversation went, organise to catch up again within the week to provide another opportunity to have the conversation and ensure the employee feels supported.
Common workplaces practices that should be avoided
To make workplace change possible, what are some of the common workplace habits or practices that we need to think about moving away from?
There are steps across all levels within the workplace, that when implemented, can benefit the mental health needs of staff.
Key ingredients for each individual worker includes: variety, purpose and control within their role; appropriate resources to carry out their job effectively; feedback and regular catch ups with supervisors to establish rapport and create an opportunity for discussion, which includes mental health issues; as well as a sense of connection with others.
At a team level, supportive relationships with supervisors and colleagues, early and effective management of interpersonal conflict, and effective leadership may have a protective effect against mental health difficulties.
Across the organisation, workplaces should have ethical decision-making procedures in place; involve employees in decision-making; have clear communication between different levels of the organisation; have a strong psychosocial safety climate where senior leaders value and are actively engaged in addressing the mental health needs of staff; and provide a safe physical environment.
About the Black Dog Institute
The Black Dog Institute is dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness. It’s objective is to create a world where mental illness is treated with the same level of concern, immediacy and seriousness as physical illness; where scientists work to discover the causes of illness and new treatments, and where discoveries are immediately put into practice through health services, technology and community education.
Learn more at the Black Dog Institute Website: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au