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Benefits of mental health awareness

We all need to be mindful of mental illness especially as there is emerging evidence that the current Covid pandemic is causing people to become increasingly anxious and depressed.

Good mental health is linked with good physical health and we are generally more productive if we are well and happy, so the workplace is an excellent place to create mental health awareness.

Figures show that more than two thirds of adults in the UK 69% are now feeling the strain, worrying about the effect the pandemic is having on their lives.

The most common issues affecting wellbeing are worry about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%).

Of course we cannot help but worry. This is an unprecedented situation that we haven’t been prepared for.

Jobs have been lost, incomes diminished and many of us feel our futures are in doubt, so it’s understandable that we are feeling the way we do but the wider picture is a bit more disturbing, especially for some groups.

A recent study for example, found that, taking account of pre-pandemic trajectories, mental health has worsened substantially (by 8.1% on average) as a result of the pandemic. Groups have not been equally impacted; young adults and women – groups with worse mental health pre-pandemic – have been hit hardest.

Being aware of how to spot signs of mental illness is a valuable asset to have, especially if you’re an employer, manager, or a first aider in the workplace. The ability to spot the signs could be a lifesaver for the person and maybe even change their life.

How do I know when someone is suffering a mental illness?

This isn’t easy as someone suffering mental illness may try their hardest to cover it up, especially if they think that if they’re ‘found out’’ they will lose their job as a consequence.

But here are some of the signs that you could look out for:

  • Irritability that has been going on for a while.
  • Having a low mood for a long time.
  • Extreme mood changes and emotional outbursts, such as anger or euphoria.
  • Reluctance to join in with activities etc.
  • Catastrophizing, worrying excessively, being anxious
  • Dramatic changes in eating habits.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Prolonged anxiety and feelings of worry.
  • Feeling sad, depressed or unhappy.
  • Having trouble coping with stress.
  • Extreme feelings of guilt or feeling worthless.
  • Difficulty in concentrating and learning new things.

Of course not everyone who exhibits any of these characteristics is suffering from mental health problems. Someone who doesn’t enjoy socialising may just prefer their own company, or a person who is sad might be going through a bereavement but as a guideline they are a good place to start.

Common mental health problems

Depression

  1. Feeling down, upset or tearful.
  2. Restlessness, agitation or irritability.
  3. Feeling guilty, worthless and down on yourself.
  4. Being empty and numb.
  5. Feeling isolated and unable to relate to other people.
  6. Finding no pleasure in life or things that are usually enjoyed.
  7. Feeling a sense of unreality.
  8. Having no self-confidence or self-esteem.
  9. Feeling hopeless and despairing.
  10. Feeling suicidal.

Changes in behaviour include:

  1. Avoidance of social events and activities.
  2. Self-harming or suicidal behaviour.
  3. A difficulty in speaking, thinking clearly or making decisions.
  4. Losing interest in sex.
  5. Difficulty remembering or concentrating on things.
  6. Using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual.
  7. Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much.
  8. Feelings of being tired all the time.
  9. Having no appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight.
  10. Experiencing physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause.
  11. Moving very slowly, or being restless and agitated.

Psychotic symptoms

These may be exhibited as:

  1. Delusions such as paranoia.
  2. Hallucinations such as hearing voices.

If someone experiences psychotic symptoms as part of depression, they’re likely to be linked to their depressed thoughts and feelings.

Generalised anxiety disorder

Constant worrying and being on edge, being irritable and restless and feeling tense all day are signs of this condition.

Panic disorder

Unexpected and recurring panic attacks are common and can spiral out of control as once a person experiences them they can worry they might have another. This can also lead to situations where a person avoids places and situations where they think these attacks might be triggered.

OCD

OCD is another common mental health problem usually caused by obsessive thoughts it is hard to get rid of.

These manifest themselves in strong feelings that certain physical tasks or mental processes need to be carried out, such as obsessively laying things out, switching things off and on in a certain order, lining up tins in a cupboard, an obsession with cleaning and a fear of dirt or germs.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

If someone has suffered a traumatic event in their life it may come back through flashbacks or nightmares, or shaking and sweating. It doesn’t have to be something that happened recently. Many traumatic events can resurface years after they occurred causing a person great distress.

What to do if you think you have a mental illness

In the same way we look after our physical health when something goes wrong we need to look after our mental health, so one of the things to do is get in touch with a professional.

For example:

  1. Contact your GP
  2. Contact the Samaritans on 116 123
  3. Contact Mind on 0300 123 3393
  4. If you are in crisis ring the NHS helpline on 111.

It’s also beneficial to talk to friends and family to create a support network. People who love you will be keen to be there for you.

How workplaces can help

Implementing an employee wellbeing service may be a way to make employees feel cared for and valued.

A wellbeing programme will show that you are committed to caring for your staff and by giving them the support they need to be happy and healthy at work you will reap the benefits.

For example a healthy valued workforce is one which contributes more, takes fewer sick days and is more reliable, so this is a win-win for employers.