Mental Health at Work
Mental health problems take many forms and people may experience a range of symptoms varying in severity. Terms such as ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ can make them seem easier to understand, but their familiarity can mean underestimating just how severe and incapacitating these conditions may be. Some of the most commonly diagnosed forms of mental distress seen in the workplace include:
- Panic Attack
Depression lowers a person’s mood, and can make them feel hopeless, worthless, unmotivated and exhausted. It can affect sleep, appetite and self-esteem, and interfere with daily activities. It may even affect their physical health. This may set off a vicious cycle, because the worse they feel, the more depressed they are likely to get. Depression often goes hand in hand with anxiety. (See www.mind.org.uk/Information/Booklets/Understanding/Understanding+depression.htm for further information)
Imagine that sudden acute sickening, panicky feeling that you get when you have a near miss when driving. Imagine having that feeling come on without notice for an hour or two with no way of controlling it. This is anxiety. It can be a constant and unrealistic worry about any aspect of daily life or sometimes its cause is unknown.
It may cause restlessness, sleeping problems and possibly physical symptoms; for example, an increased heart beat, stomach upset, muscle tension or feeling shaky. Someone who is highly anxious may also develop related problems, such as panic attacks, a phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder. (See http://www.mind.org.uk/Information/Booklets/Understanding/Understanding+anxiety.htm. For further information)
These are sudden, unexpected bouts of intense terror. A person experiencing an attack may find it hard to breathe, and feel their heart beating hard. They may have a choking sensation and a pain in the chest, begin to tremble or feel faint. It’s easy to mistake these for the signs of a heart attack or another serious problem. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and this is what distinguishes them from a natural response to real danger.
Having one panic attack doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will have another one. But, sometimes, the experience is so frightening that people become afraid of having another. This fear may actually trigger another attack when a similar situation arises. (See http://www.mind.org.uk/Information/Booklets/How+to/How+to+cope+with+panic+attacks.htm for further information)
Stress is associated with pressure at work or home. It can be short-lived or lead onto longer term mental health problems.
Tell-tale signs of stress building up include: not being able to sleep properly with worries going through your mind; being impatient or irritable at minor problems; poor concentration; being unable to make decisions; drinking or smoking more; unable to relax, and always feeling that something needs to be done; feeling tense or anxious.
(see http://www.mind.org.uk/Information/Booklets/Other/Mindtroubleshootersstress.htm for further information)
The report Working for a Healthier Tomorrow2 calculated the cost of sickness absence and unemployment associated with working-age ill health to be £100bn a year, or enough to run the entire NHS. If a third of this is mental ill health, then for purely economic reasons, we have reason to take action.
How to help someone with an acute mental health problem at work
Whether short-term episodic or long-term single episodes, Occupational Health professionals should be involved in assisting the organisation as well as the individual in the management of the absence.
Peritus Health Management’s Occupational Health Advisors can:
- ensure that the individual is receiving the care to which they are entitled;
- identify adjustments that can be made to duties, hours and equipment to optimimise attendance;
- alleviate barriers to rehabilitation;
- provide professional independent advice on the continued impact of health on work and work on health;
- assess the prognosis and progress whether back in work, or during extended absence;
- arrange a referral for talking therapy, e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy, psychological support, counselling.
Peritus Health Management uses the Department of Health’s guidance on ‘Treatment Choice in Psychological Therapies and Counselling’ when advising on the treatment required for individuals.
Good communication between the manager and the individual whilst they are absent from work due to sickness, especially with mental ill health, is strongly recommended even though at times it may be difficult. This will allow for the practical issues around sickness absence to be arranged and any worries relating to the job and pay can be addressed. This will also help to allay the social isolation and loss of confidence experienced by extensive sickness absence and offers the opportunity to discuss any rehabilitation options available that may be unknown to the individual
It is important to monitor anyone returning from long-term sickness absence to ensure that they are coping satisfactorily at work. Whilst some will have recovered sufficiently and learned new personal skills during their absence, there are others who will continue to experience difficulties and the risk of illness recurring is high.
It is also recommended that clear rehabilitation goals are set with identified timescales either prior to the individuals return or during the return to work interview. Whilst these goals may not be set in stone, the organisation and the individual need to be aware that a minimum level of performance will still be required at the end of the rehabilitation programme.
Want to find out more?
For more information about our work related mental health services, contact us