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If someone is trying to cope alone, they may not have even taken the time to notice that they are struggling. With 15% of working-age adults estimated to have a mental disorder in 2019, all we can do is look out for one another and do our best to know what to watch for.  

There are so many ways that difficulties with mental health can present themselves. Understanding at least some of these and knowing what to look for is crucial. 

An important detail to remember when dealing with mental health issues in the workplace, both for yourself and others, is that under UK health and safety legislation and common law, employers have a duty to take care of employees. This includes a responsibility to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. 

There is no singular statute specifically covering workplace stress: many laws are relevant, and much of the law governing stress has evolved from case law rather than legislation. 

So, what exactly should you be keeping an eye out for when it comes to your colleague’s mental health and your own? 

Firstly, performance can be a more obvious sign. If their quality of work or ability to work suddenly and drastically changes this could be a sign that they are struggling. Changes like this, however, are not always so dramatic. People can deteriorate slowly and as a result, may fly under the radar for longer periods before anybody spots a problem.  

Look for a lack of motivation where there used to be enthusiasm. 

Look for problems with memory. Are they as on it as they’ve always been? 

Look for any uncharacteristic mistakes or inconsistencies that were not there before. 

If you are concerned about a colleague, you can watch for different emotional behaviors. Maybe you felt you were friends before and now they seem to become angry or upset by the end of every conversation you have. Someone who becomes irritable and extremely reactive where they were not previously is likely to be dealing with personal issues outside of the workplace. Try checking in with them but do not push too hard. Often people are unaware of changes in their behavior and may not take well to being told they have changed especially in what may be perceived as a negative way. This could even exacerbate the issue and make them feel self-conscious. So, tread carefully and more than anything just be there as support even if they are not ready yet themselves. 

Another major sign that may be more immediately obvious is absence. This could present as being consistently late or missing days altogether. They may miss social events with friends and not be contacting anyone the way they used to. The key to spotting something like this though, is knowing what they were like before so that you can see the change. For example, if someone was always quiet and introverted, this may not be a sign of anything, but if they were the friendliest, most outgoing person you knew it could be. 

At Unmasked we offer an employee support line for organisations. The employee support line means employees who need support can speak to a professional and receive advice on what else is out there that could help them. 

Contact Unmasked Mental Health on 01422 356945 or email us at 

This article is written by Laura Taylor, who is a Volunteer at Unmasked Mental Health.

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