Poor mental health is one of the most devastating issues facing UK organisations. Worryingly, poor mental health in the workplace is extremely common with 1 in 4 workers silently struggling. 

We see many young people who feel isolated in the workplace with no one to talk to and without any kind of support, and this has a huge effect on their mental health.

The most common workplace mental health issues in the workplace are anxiety, depression, and stress. Employee wellbeing statistics reveal that 63% of working professionals experience at least mild symptoms of anxiety, and 73% reported that they had trouble relaxing.

With so many people affected, knowing how to spot the signs of poor mental health in the workplace is a key skill to have as a leader, manager, or colleague. By familiarising yourself with the symptoms of poor mental health, you’ll be better able to support someone struggling.

What are the signs?

Many of us are unfortunately still reluctant to disclose any mental health issues to managers or colleagues. This is often because we’re afraid of other people’s responses.

For this reason, everyone must take a proactive approach to the mental health of their colleagues and familiarise themselves with the common signs and symptoms of poor mental health. These symptoms are not always obvious, but there are common signs to look out for.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to start the conversation. 

1. Uncharacteristic behaviour

You might notice that a team member doesn’t seem like their usual selves. For instance, they might start turning up late, acting aggressively or being unusually quiet.

2. Low levels of engagement

Low levels of engagement, lack of motivation and difficulty concentrating are not necessarily performance management problems – they can also be side-effects of mental health issues.

3. Decreases in productivity

People who are experiencing poor mental health may appear disinterested, distracted or lethargic. They may also struggle to complete tasks and show an inability to make decisions.

4. Changes in sleeping or eating behaviours

Insomnia and difficulty sleeping are often potential indicators of a mental health issue. You should also look out for colleagues who begin to regularly miss lunch or refuse to eat with co-workers.

5. Disinterest in work or day-to-day activities

A lack of interest in activities, particularly those that they used to enjoy, could be a sign of somebody experiencing low mood.

6. Increased absence

Taking regular, short-term absences for an ongoing problem may be reflective of an underlying mental health issue.

7. Changes in working patterns

Changes in working patterns, like frequently being absent, arriving late or leaving early, could all be indicators of an underlying mental issue.

8. Irrational fears, paranoia or anxiety

Irrational fears and anxieties are typical of some mental illnesses. Examples include paranoia about co-workers and anxieties around job security.

9. Withdrawal from social situations

Colleagues may start to withdraw into themselves and isolate themselves. Many people with mental health concerns suffer from isolation, loneliness and self-loathing.

10. Substance use/misuse

To self-medicate, employees may turn to alcohol, drugs or other addictions. This is typically an urgent sign that your employee needs help.

How can I support my colleagues with their mental health?

Just as mental illnesses can be extremely daunting for those who are facing them, it may also feel daunting for you wanting to help them. If you think one of your team is struggling, or you find out that a colleague is experiencing poor mental health, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to do.

Try doing to following things to develop an open environment, in which it will be easier to talk and support anyone experience poor mental health.

Be available

Maintain an open and meaningful dialogue with your team around mental health. Make it clear to others that you are available for a conversation and support. Your team will be more likely to open up if you express your own vulnerabilities. If you feel comfortable doing so, talk about any mental health struggles you might have faced.

Ask twice

Three in four people would say they’re fine even if they’re struggling so ask your colleagues how they’re doing – twice. Simply asking again, with interest, might just lead to your employee disclosing an issue they otherwise would have kept hidden.

Start the conversation

Talk to your employee about the problems they’re experiencing. Ask simple, open and non-judgmental questions and let them explain in their own words how their mental health affects them and what support they need.

Show compassion and empathy

If someone approaches you, there’s no substitute for demonstrating compassion and empathy throughout the conversation. Being able to understand where someone is coming from can mean the world to someone who is struggling.

Look out for yourself too

You are not expected to be an expert, or to have all the answers. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and make sure you’re in a good place mentally before supporting others. If you cannot offer support yourself, signpost your colleagues towards mental health resources.

Educate yourself 

Make use of resources that can educate you on how to help employees experiencing different mental health issues.

You can make a huge difference

Learning how to spot mental health issues at work is not always easy, but it’s so important. As an employer, manager, or colleague it’s your responsibility to be on the lookout for any member of your team who may be experiencing mental health issues. Even if you cannot directly help them, you can always point them in the direction of someone who can.

Getting started is often the hardest part, so the first things to do are to familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms of mental illness in the workplace and get talking with your team.

If you’re able to do this, then you could make a huge and potentially life-changing difference to the lives of your employees.

Here are some places to signpost colleagues who might need mental health support:

Mental Health Matters


Time to Change

Healthline Mental Health