In the midst of a global pandemic and social unrest, it is expected to be sad, upset and angry—but what if you suspect an employee is struggling with a more serious mental health issue?
In the recently held Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 on Workers and Their Families virtual conference, Christina Fuda, mental health first aid coordinator at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences shared ways for employers to distinguish between someone having a bad day and someone showing signs of more significant mental health issues.
Here’s what to look for if you suspect an employee is having anxiety issues or suffering from depression:
Signs and symptoms of anxiety include:
- Excessive or inappropriate worry. Of course, people feel worried during the pandemic. This is a healthy reaction. An example of excessive behavior is someone checking the news so much that it disrupts day-to-day tasks.
- Difficulty concentrating. Someone is normally quite focused, and they are suddenly unable to complete tasks as they usually would.
- Impatience, irritability and anger. Your down to earth, rational co-worker becomes more irritated and angry.
- Speeding or slowing of thoughts. Are they heading into overdrive, or have they shut down?
- Feelings of detachment or loss of control. Has your co-worker expressed not having control over their thoughts, with an inability to stop ongoing worry?
- Easily tired. Anxiety can trigger physiological reactions that lead to a feeling of fatigue. Also, it’s common for people with anxiety to have gastrointestinal issues.
Signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Low mood or sadness. Know that feeling sadness is healthy. Loss of a job, a relationship or a loved one are all causes of “healthy” sadness. However, if it is prolonged sadness combined with the other symptoms below, it may be depression.
- Loss of interest and enjoyment in things that the person normally enjoys.
- Decreased self-esteem. In some cases, such as a break-up, it’s normal to think poorly of yourself for a short period of time. If this feeling lasts longer than 2-4 weeks, it needs to be looked at closer.
- Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
- Thoughts of suicide. If you have ANY indication of these thoughts at any time, it’s always best to go to a professional. For immediate help, contact a suicide helpline: 800-273-8255 in the U.S. and 833 456-4566 in Canada.
- Disturbed sleep
- Loss of energy
- Reduced concentration and attention
- Unexplained aches and pains. Lower back pain and depression are often linked. Of course, there are many causes of lower back pain. If there are no muscular-skeletal explanations for this pain, it could be depression.
Signs and symptoms to watch for in the workplace
With our co-workers, we might not see all of the symptoms listed above. Here are some specific things to look out for at work:
- Increased emotionality, such as tears from someone who normally does not tend to cry
- Social withdrawal or conflict with others
- Increased missed appointments
- Appears tired or slow
- Looks confused at times and has a hard time making decisions
- Making more mistakes or lagging behind
- Increased conversations about problems
- Signs of alcohol or drug abuse.
In a working-at-home environment, managers can encourage self-care, including free online exercise programs, free meditation tools and nutrition tips. If you notice signs and symptoms, reach out. Call, text or email. It truly helps employees to know you care.
Much like learning CPR or other first aid techniques, it’s important to learn the nuances of the techniques of mental health first aid and to practice handling difficult situations. To learn more about mental health first aid, check out this recent blog post: How Supervisors Can Support Employees With a Mental Health Illness.
(Note: Resist trying to diagnose your employees, friends or family. When any symptoms arise, it’s important to rule out the physical causes first.)
Learn More About Supporting Employees’ Mental Health
Access the full virtual conference Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 on Workers and Their Families to learn more. The conference explores mental health stigmas, existing barriers that limit access to mental health care, the stress on employees who are mental health caregivers and how processing grief has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn how to evaluate employee needs and ensure your benefits are designed to provide adequate and timely assistance.
For even more resources, visit the International Foundation Workplace Mental Health webpage.
Stacy Van Alstyne
Communications Director at the International Foundation
[Register Now! Change Management Workshop | December 3-4, 2020 | Online Workshop]
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