Jan Mirkowski, Arinite’s director of international and UK services, shared his expert advice on mental health within the workplace: the signs to look for, who it is most likely to affect, and tips employers can use to help minimise its detrimental effects.
Every couple of years during my youth, I watched a close contact spiral into a nightmare of schizophrenia, paranoia, clinical depression, and several attempts at suicide.
Their medicine cabinet is always brimmed with pills; sometimes not taken as required.
Invariably, that person would end up sectioned in a Victorian-era mental hospital where electroconvulsive shock therapy seemed to be the only thing that ‘rebooted’ (in modern parlance) their brain; unpleasant though the treatment was.
They returned from the hospital each time with a little of their former persona chipped away and ultimately forced to take early retirement from work only to die eventually from their mental health conditions.
Winding forward to my 21st-century corporate career in telecoms, a subordinate self-certified himself with one day off work due to stress; apparently because one of the kindest, most thoughtful, members of our team had made a (rational) suggestion during a team meeting that seemingly knocked the stuffing out of him.
So, we’re clearly dealing with a continuum here, from one extreme to the other. How are employers supposed to manage an illness that can display few outward indications? How do you ensure that the demands you are making on people (or that they make on themselves) are not so onerous as to unbalance their health?
Research estimates that 14.3% of deaths worldwide, or approximately 8 million deaths each year, are attributable to mental disorders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that, before the pandemic in 2019, an estimated one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder; that is close to 1 billion people.
Estimates put the rise in both anxiety and depressive disorders at more than 25% during the first year of the pandemic. At the same time, mental health services have been severely disrupted and the treatment gap for mental health conditions has widened.
10th October 2022 – World Mental Health Day
The most common mental health problems are:
- Psychotic disorders
- Eating disorders.
These categories are also broken down into sub-sets). Most such problems are mild, tend to be short-term and are normally successfully treated, with medication, by a GP.
At the other extreme, however, 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition.
What to look for
10 things to look out for when it comes to spotting mental health issues at work:
- Uncharacteristic behaviour
- Low levels of engagement
- Decreases in productivity
- Changes in sleeping or eating behaviours
- Disinterest in work or day-to-day activities
- Increased absence
- Changes in working patterns
- Withdrawal from social situations
- Irrational fears, paranoia or anxiety
- Substance use/misuse
Risk factors that can trigger mental health problems include
- Negative life events
- Some medications
- Illegal drugs
- Physical disease/illnesses
- Work-related stress
Which professions are most prone to mental health problems?
The answer depends on who you listen to, but most studies show that people-facing jobs tend to be the most stressful, for example:
- Emergency medical technicians
- Construction workers
- Childcare workers
- Restaurant workers
- Humanitarian workers
What should employers do?
Arinite publishes a risk matrix addressing the work-life balance. Other than exercising good listening skills, managers have limited scope to influence employees’ home lives. But they have the ability and the duty to recognise and address causes of stress in the workplace.