This article, based on information provided by Barbour EHS, gives an overview of how employers can help their employees deal with depression and anxiety.
Mental health: it’s time we educated ourselves on a common health issue
- Depression signs and symptoms
- Anxiety signs and symptoms
- Support and guidance
- Reasonable adjustments
- Return to work
Signs and Symptoms
- continuous low mood or sadness
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- having low self-esteem
- feeling tearful
- feeling guilt-ridden
- feeling irritable and intolerant of others
- having no motivation or interest in things
- finding it difficult to make decisions
- not getting any enjoyment out of life
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
- feeling anxious or worried.
- moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- unexplained aches and pains
- lack of energy
- changes to menstrual cycle
- disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning).
- not doing well at work
- taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends
- neglecting your hobbies and interests
- having difficulties in home and family life.
Signs and Symptoms
- a sense of dread
- feeling constantly “on edge”
- difficulty concentrating
- being easily distracted.
Because of symptoms like this, people can struggle with everyday tasks such as going to work, but taking time off may make their self esteem lower. It is essential to reassure and support staff suffering from anxiety.
- drowsiness and tiredness
- pins and needles
- irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- muscle aches and tension
- dry mouth
- excessive sweating
- shortness of breath
- stomach ache
- excessive thirst
- frequent urinating
- painful, prolonged or missed periods
- difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia).
Support and Guidance
It is important to offer confidential support to employees suffering from depression or anxiety. Sitting down with an employee and offering moral support and ensuring them that reasonable adjustments may be made may be helpful.
A person suffering depression needs to speak to their doctor to get a proper diagnosis as levels of depression vary from mild to severe. Treatment for depression also varies from self-help groups and talking therapy through to anti-depressant medication and help from a mental health team.
If the employee is suffering from panic attacks it would be best to discuss a plan for what to do when one occurs that brings as little attention as possible to the situation.
As with stressors and stress, highlighting the triggers that start the feelings of anxiety, may help a person control it. For example, if public speaking or long meetings make an employee overwhelmed it may benefit everyone to look into alternatives.
Reasonable adjustments and flexibility are essential.
The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to be flexible and make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities to enable them to do their jobs. Many adjustments are simple and inexpensive and will make sense to your business.
The HSE break down the concept of reasonable adjustments into the following three areas:
(1) Adjustments to working arrangements, which may include:
- allowing a phased return to work
- changing individual’s working hours
- providing help with transport to and from work
- arranging home working, providing a safe environment which can be maintained
- allowing an employee to be absent from work for rehabilitation treatment.
(2) Adjustments to premises, which may include:
- moving tasks to more accessible areas
- making alterations to premises.
(3) Adjustments to a job, which may include:
- providing new or modifying existing equipment and tools
- modifying work furniture
- providing additional training
- modifying instructions or reference manuals
- modifying work patterns and management systems
- arranging telephone conferences to reduce travel
- providing a buddy or mentor
- providing supervision
- reallocating work within the employee’s team
- providing alternative work.
Return to Work
The process of returning to work after a period away due to mental ill health must be done gradually and with support from managers. A return to work action plan will ensure that everyone is happy about how things will be dealt with and which adjustments will be in place.
A confidential discussion will allow you to discuss how progress will be monitored, with the employee.
Employers should remember to:
- make sure the employee does not return to a very full in-tray, lots of emails or a workspace that has been taken over by someone else
- be realistic about workloads – be aware that some people will wish to prove themselves and may offer to take on too much. Set achievable goals that make them feel they are progressing
- have frequent informal chats so there is an opportunity to discuss progress/problems without a formal (and possibly intimidating) session. Do not make the employee feel that their work and/or behaviour is being overly monitored or scrutinised.
Employers should avoid:
- making the person feel they are a special case – this can cause resentment both with the individual and with peers
- failing to deal with their work while they have been of work. Check whether a backlog of unfinished work has built up and deal with this also.
What makes us susceptible to burnout?
In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.
We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.