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Can Mental Health Issues Cause Problems on the Job?

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Mental health issues plague one in five American adults, or nearly 51.5 million people according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While federal regulations keep employees physically safe, their mental and emotional health should be safeguarded as well to create a communicative and productive workplace.

The first step in doing so is identifying how mental health issues manifest themselves in the workplace. Here are five signs an employee or coworker might be struggling and some ways coworkers can encourage an open, helpful work culture.

Loss In General Productivity

In many cases, struggles with mental health lead to absenteeism. Otherwise punctual employees call out more, come in late or have to leave early. However, poor mental health in the workplace results in another important yet often overlooked symptom: presenteeism.

Presenteeism occurs when an employee is physically at work, but mentally somewhere else. Despite their best efforts, a person suffering from mental illness might also be experiencing:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Improper nutrition due to missed meals and lack of appetite
  • Side effects from medications


According to the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, depression-related presenteeism can cost companies over $5,000 annually per employee. By encouraging trusting, open relationships amongst coworkers and providing the benefits employees need to get therapy and proper medication, businesses help workers maintain mental health.

Lack of Communication

Communication is the crux of any successful business. Someone suffering from depression, anxiety or another mental illness might become more withdrawn or feel less confident expressing ideas to coworkers. Due to their mental illness, they might feel isolated and stressed.

To combat this, make time for employees to connect and have fun. When people feel supported by their coworkers, they’re more likely to open up and not see work as another source of stress on their already overwhelmed minds.

Confusion

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A person dealing with mental health issues has a lot on their mind. In the workplace, he or she might have more trouble:

  • Solving problems
  • Staying engaged
  • Keeping organized
  • Finding purpose in their work


While these are common signs of mental illness, they’re also signs of burnout. Unfortunately, burnout can exacerbate mental illness and vice versa. Overtime might be a great short-term solution in a crunch, but too much leads to chronic fatigue and lack of sleep. A worn-out coworker might be putting in more than enough hours, but their time is likely less productive than usual.

To guard against this, make sure employees aren’t stretching themselves too thin. Keep an eye on their hours and give them longer deadlines if possible. When workers feel like they have time to breathe, they’ll make more informed, efficient decisions.

Increased Anxiety

When an otherwise confident employee questions their decisions, they might be suffering from anxiety or other related disorders including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Phobias


Like depression, these mental illnesses might manifest in a lack of communication or timely decision-making. When a person deals with an untreated anxiety disorder for a long time, they may also have frustrated outbursts directed at their coworkers.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, releasing and sharing anxious thoughts is better than trying to block and suppress them. When employees get time to decompress through socializing or just taking a short walk around the building, they can break cycles of worried internal dialogue and reset their brains.

Decreased Physical Capabilities

Researchers have shown that mental disorders and physical pain are inexorably linked. Mental illness might decrease a person’s physical capabilities through:

  • Decreased pain tolerance
  • Frequent stomach issues
  • Migraines
  • Muscle pain
  • Periods of sluggishness
  • Autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis and rheumatic arthritis


These symptoms are often caused by the hormonal imbalances that come with mental illnesses. A depressed person might be tired from a lack of serotonin. Someone affected by anxiety might suffer from chronic pain and digestive problems due to spikes in adrenaline levels.

This also works the other way. According to the same research, people suffering from chronic pain are twice as likely to develop depression and anxiety. To lessen these effects, make sure workspaces are comfortable and well-suited to their purposes. A physically safe workplace is more mentally protected, as well. 

How To Help Coworkers Struggling With Mental Health Issues

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While mental health is complex, helping someone through a particularly difficult time doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re a coworker, manager, or employer, create a positive working environment by:

  • Checking in with people you think are struggling
  • Being flexible with routines
  • Communicating openly
  • Validating others’ hard work
  • Allowing coworkers to vent without judgment
  • Offering programs and benefits that facilitate relaxing time off and beneficial mental health services


People suffering from mental illnesses don’t necessarily need you to solve their problems — they need understanding and the right tools.

That being said, toxic positivity places a burden on everyone. When the general mood feels overly positive, forced, and unrealistic, honest communication suffers. For people suffering from mental health issues, they may feel a greater need to bottle up their feelings when faced with an unrealistically upbeat environment.

Helping Yourself

Even with the aid of caring coworkers and friends, navigating the perils of a mental health crisis can feel intimidating. Many times, people don’t have a proper diagnosis to begin with. That’s where Enhance Health Group of Orange County, California, can help.

Our clinical team offers help for a range of mental health disorders such as:


If you suspect a mental health condition is affecting your work, relationships or daily life, contact us for support. We offer individualized outpatient treatment, group therapy and assisted living options tailored to get you on the path to a healthier lifestyle. Through medication management and continual adaptive therapy, we’ll help you reach your mental health goals and become the productive person you know you can be.