COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on people’s mental health, with more than half of UK adults and over two-thirds of people feeling their wellbeing has deteriorated since the pandemic first hit.
The loss of loved ones, social isolation and breakdowns of relationships have all had a serious impact on our psychological health, as have workplace issues and employment instability.
It’s not always easy to spot someone at work who might be struggling with their mental health, but it can be even harder when everyone is working from home.
“While we have come to terms with the initial teething problems of these makeshift offices, there are now bigger issues facing our teams,” says Kelly Feehan, services director at the wellbeing charity CABA. “Now more than ever, it’s easier for those who are suffering with poor mental health to go unnoticed.
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“We only need to ‘perform’ for the duration of calls or meetings, instead of for entire days in the office, which means it’s a lot harder to spot the signs and symptoms of poor mental health in those we work alongside.”
However, there are some red flags to look out for that may suggest a co-worker isn’t coping well.
For many of us, life under lockdown is exhausting. Parents are having to juggle home-schooling with work, video calls can be extremely tiring and even the monotony of lockdown can make us feel more tired than normal.
However, a lack of energy can also be a sign that someone is struggling with their mental health, says Feehan. “Lack of sleep or exhaustion are classic signs of burnout and shouldn’t be ignored, but as many of us are still working from home, this sign might be more difficult to spot. Be sure to check in regularly with your colleagues and take time out to ask how they are feeling.
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“Another indicator is if a colleague is appearing overwhelmed by their workload. Often, if people have these feelings, they are likely to look stressed or concerned as they’re being given actions or tasks,” she adds. “If you feel as though you’ve noticed this in anyone, check in and see if you can give them a hand or help them manage their to-do list and support them in identifying their key priorities.”
When we work alongside other people, it can be easier to spot changes in their behaviour. For example, if they were withdrawing from conversations and spending more time alone. However, there are a few ways to tell if someone isn’t as engaged as they normally are.
“If you use a messenger programme, such as Slack or Skype, have a look through the group channels and see if they have been active, or kept quiet for lengthy periods of time,” Feehan says. “If your company organises social events, or has informal weekly video calls with the whole team, they might choose not to take part, or keep their camera and microphone switched off.”
Irritability often goes hand in hand with social withdrawal too. If someone is being sharp or curt, it may be a reflection of how they are feeling. “Try to be understanding, and if they’re not willing to engage or discuss this with you, leave them to it,” adds Feehan. “Whilst you’re only showing concern, it might feel as though they’re being pestered when they simply want to be left alone to work through these feelings.”
If you spot a colleague lacking concentration, failing to focus on simple tasks or even struggling with memory, these could be signs that they are struggling with poor mental health too.
It’s important that you engage with them and ensure they’re aware of the help that’s available, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, it may be helpful to speak to a manager who can provide further support.
“When a team member’s mental health is flagged as a concern it is the role of a manager to have the courage to start a conversation,” says Feehan. “Try an exploratory approach that invites the team member to open up. The most important thing though, is to ensure that your colleagues feel as though they have a safe environment where they can share these feelings.”
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