How to help an employee with signs of mental ill health

How to help an employee with signs of mental ill health

Mental ill health accounts for 18% of all working time lost in the UK, according to research by FirstCare.

However, there remains an ignorance of the topic in the general population and workplace, along with an associated stigma that can lead to delays in people seeking help and support.  

Despite the fact mental ill health can affect anyone; there is a lack of trained personnel, knowledge and confidence in the illness.

Speaking to HR Grapevine, Suzanne Monk, FirstCare's Clinical Governance Officer, discusses the concept of having a Mental Health first aider.

She says: “To address this, forward thinking organisations invoke mental health first aid, or crisis counselling.  This is designed to provide immediate confidential support at the point of a mental health crisis event and, in its most powerful form, can even save a life by using basic suicide intervention skills.

“In the same way that organisations commonly have a role in place for the provision of physical first aid, mental health first aid will help to identify those crucial warning signs, provide help and reassurance and effectively guide someone towards the right support services.”

She outlines three key elements, which comprises of identifying, understanding and helping a person who may be developing a mental health issue.


Examples of signs and symptoms of crisis: crying, negativity, lack of motivation, withdrawing, poor sleep patterns, substance abuse, diet changes, feelings of guilt or low self-esteem, making mistakes, inappropriate reactions to critique, argumentative and resistant.


Personal issues account for 88.6% of mental health absences, which can include bereavement, relationships, changes in finances, children, moving house, social circumstances and chronic illness.

Mental health issues can also be attributed to work related issues, with 11.4% of mental health absences being attributed to the workplace. This could arise from bullying, managing change, workload, responsibilities and redundancies.


Mental ill health can have a devastating effect on individuals, as well as causing disruption for their employer and colleagues. As a result, a rolling mental health management programme is essential, ideally with the following elements:

  • Stress risk assessments
  • Train a team of Mental Health First Aiders
  • Train managers and staff to recognise the signs
  • Resilience training – teaching coping tools
  • Well-being events – healthy lifestyle changes
  • Information and resources
  • Have an EAP and monitor its use

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