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Signs of Poor Mental Health at Work: How to Help Your Coworkers

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Discussing mental health and substance abuse in the workplace used to be taboo. Fortunately, as more and more people are affected by it in one way or another, it's starting to become more common practice to identify signs of poor mental health at work and help your coworker/employees overcome it. 

This is an especially important transition because it not only helps the business but helps the people who keep it going. Believe it or not, the CDC claims that not only do 1 in 5 adults 18 and older have some kind of mental illness, but depression interferes with a person's ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time.

On top of that, only 57% of employees who report moderate depression and 40% of those who report severe depression receive treatment to control depression symptoms.

And that's only a small piece of the pie in terms of poor mental health. To ensure you're helping your coworkers when they need it most, remember these signs of poor mental health at work. After all, they're at work more than they're home — they need you!



According to EHS Today, more than 75% of U.S. workers have dealt with issues negatively affecting their mental health, further supporting the importance of knowing what to look for to make a difference in your coworker's life. 

Here's what to look out for:



Managers and direct coworkers can both identify when a teammate is not producing at their standard level. If you notice that a team member used to top the charts in performance at work but is now slacking in comparison, don't hesitate to speak up about it. Sometimes the worst thing you can do for a friend or colleague is pretending you don't know something's up.



When a coworker is quick to frustrate or become irritable, it could signify the stress and anxiety boiling over. Chances are, they might be overworked or close to burning out, especially since 94% of employees reported experiencing work-related stress in 2019 alone. Whatever the case, irritability isn't normal, so it should be further investigated. 



When your coworker struggles to complete even simple tasks related to performance, it may be a sign of poor mental health. In fact, Health Grades says that lack of focus can be caused by one or more of the following mental health issues:

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Emotional trauma
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Stress

Be on the safe side and report it!



This can come in a number of ways: If you work in person and notice your coworker continuing to decline lunches, happy hours, etc., they're likely struggling with something. Or, if you work hybrid and notice your coworker opting for more work-from-home days, they may be trying to get away from social interactions. While it can be more difficult in a strictly remote environment, if you notice them failing to respond on social media/outside of work/chat, you should still report it.



According to SAMHSA, 68.9% of the estimated 22.4 million illicit drug users (18+) and 79.3% of adult binge drinkers (and 76.1% heavy drinkers) are employed either full-time or part-time. Struggles with substance abuse are likely closer to home than you may think, and it's up to coworkers and managers at work to notice the signs since more than one-third of your life is spent at work.

Always be alert for alcoholism in the workplace and coworkers using drugs.





CHROs are not the only people who can help struggling employees — it's also on the coworkers to offer their support and assistance to people they care about. To provide the necessary support your coworkers need, the following are needed from you.



Many coworkers may struggle to find the time to bring up their struggles, so make it easier by continuing to be available for the conversation when they need it. All it takes is a single conversation to find out that your coworkers aren't doing as well as they may pretending to be, and you could make all the difference. 



This is not to say that you are not suffering from your own struggles/stresses. However, when you recognize the part that you play in helping your coworkers — whom we hope you care deeply about — it becomes easier to hold yourself accountable and continue to do your part in helping them.



If you're really worried about a coworker, it may be time to seek the support they likely won't. This is where an EAP comes into play — educate them about it, destigmatize it, and show your support. Your coworkers and their mental health matters, and being there to help them get the help they need will show them that.



No business wants to believe substance abuse or mental health issues will affect them, but it's more likely than not that it will. To top it off, Mental Health American reports that only 5% of employees strongly agree that their employer provides a safe environment for employees who live with mental illness. Employers and coworkers must work together to keep everyone in the workplace safe and healthy.

This starts with having EAP programs available to everyone who needs them and educating employees on what to look out for and what to do when they notice there's a problem. You may just find that it'll save a coworker's life, bring more peace and production to the workplace, and keep you informed about the best way to keep the people around you safe.

Contact our team at Employee Recovery for more insight and resources on EAP programs, signs of poor mental health at work, and the best ways to ensure employees get the help and support they need.


>> Click here to get more information on everything you need to know about EAP mental health resources

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