What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a general term for a group of illnesses that may impact a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and behaviors. Mental illness can make it difficult for someone to cope with work, relationships, and other demands in their lives.

Mental health disorders account for 5% of the global disease burden, though reach up to 10% in countries such as Ireland, France, Spain, and Australia. The disease burden figures take into account mortality, disability, and health challenges as a result of mental health disorders. Therefore, it is important to consider the positive impact of good mental health strategies in the workplace, for both physical and psychological health.

What causes mental illness?

Positive mental health describes how we think and feel about ourselves and others and how we interpret events in everyday life. It also relates to our ability to cope with change, transition, significant life events, and the stress that often comes our way. When an individual does not have positive mental health, this can lead to mental illness. Some common mental health problems can result in anxiety, depression, and stress.

The exact causes of most mental illnesses are not known, but it is becoming increasingly clear through research that these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Other factors that can contribute to mental illness are brain defects or injury, substance abuse, infections, and genetics.

What are five signs of mental illness?

Building awareness of mental health issues in the workplace is so crucial. Below is a list of how common mental health symptoms might manifest in the workplace.

1. Change in one’s character

You might observe an employee doesn’t seem like their usual self. This could include emotional outbursts and changes in moods, navigating from extreme highs to lows, aggressive behavior – such as arguments with colleagues and, increased irritability.

2. Socially withdrawn

This is one of the most common signs that someone might be struggling with their mental health. Employees might start to withdraw from social situations within the workplace and display a reluctance to communicate with their team or manager. The prospect of socializing might be too overwhelming if someone is struggling to cope.

3. Increased absence

Episodes of increased absence, and regular short-term absence may be warning signs of mental health issues. It might be too difficult and overwhelming for someone with a mental health issue to attend work if they’re struggling to cope.

4. Changes in work performance

If employees are experiencing a mental health problem their work performance may be affected, as core symptoms of depression include a disinterest in activities, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, which make it increasingly difficult to be productive. A sudden decline in an employee’s productivity and work habits, such as frequently turning up late to work might be a warning sign of a deeper, mental health issue.

5. Changes in physical appearance

There may be less visibility to identify changes in an employee’s physical appearance if you’re working from home however, changes in appearance can be observed over video calls. An individual might begin to adopt an unhealthy, unkept, or dishevelled appearance. If this happens regularly it might suggest the person is struggling to cope. Many individuals struggling to cope might find it challenging to maintain an appropriate appearance.

If you identify one or more of the above red flags in an employee, it doesn’t automatically mean someone has a mental health issue, and it’s important to handle the matter with care and compassion. It can suggest it might be time to intervene by opening a genuine dialogue with the employee and offering sincere support. Many of our mental health workshops are designed to support employees in organisations.

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