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Identifying Mental Ill-Health

How Can You Tell When an Employee Has Mental Ill-Health?

How do you know if an employee has mental ill health?

If you think a member of staff has a mental health issue then the first question to ask yourself is "why?"

  • Are there work-based issues?
  • Is there a performance issue with the person?
  • Have you noticed erratic or changed behaviour?
  • Are there other signs of a mental health issue?
  • Have other staff members said anything?

Have a look at some early warning signs we've outlined to give you some guidance on whether somebody may be dealing with a mental health condition.

Acting on clear evidence is important, but it's also important to use your common sense and your natural instincts to care for others.

As a manager you'll be used to discussing staff performance or problems with your employees. Occasionally the reason for a decrease in performance could be a mental health issue.

If you are thinking about discussing this with the employee it's really important to follow some guiding principles.


  • Be clear that you wish to discuss a performance issue. Even if you think there may be a mental health issue. Start your discussions based on the evidence of the changes in performance just as you would normally.
  • Consider asking someone else to get involved. A colleague, from HR or a team colleague they trust for example, a union rep or possibly a friend or family member could also help in some circumstances.
  • Find out whether your company offers an Employee Assistance Programme so you can remind your employee what support is offered by the company.


  • Avoid talking about performance if you think there may be a mental health problem.

See also the guidance on the following pages:
It's good to talk
How do I support an employee who is emotional?

If you find yourself informed of an employee's mental ill health indirectly or through gossip take the following steps:

  • Challenge the person giving you the information. Have they heard this directly from the person concerned? is there a work related issue?
  • Consider whether there is any evidence to back up this. Without evidence of an issue at work there is no conversation to be had.
  • Make sure the person giving the information knows that you cannot act on this information until there is an evidence-based work issue.

If you establish that your employee is dealing with a mental health condition follow the guidance given in how do I support someone with mental ill health?

If it is still not clear that your employee is dealing with mental ill health look at guidance given in how do I create a healthy workplace?

What Are The Early Warning Signs Of Mental Ill Health?

Most of us have experienced high, even harmful stress at work occasionally. However, when an individual or group of employees becomes so routinely stressed that their health and work performance are affected then a mental health issue could develop.

So what are the particular early warning signs you should look out for?

  • An increase in unexplained absences or sick leave
  • Poor performance
  • Poor-time-keeping
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco or caffeine
  • Frequent headaches and back aches
  • Withdrawal from social contact
  • Poor judgement / indecision
  • Constant tiredness or low energy
  • Unusual displays of emotion e.g. frequent irritability or tearfulness

Talking to staff really is the best way to spot early signs of stress or an emerging mental health problem. The more open communication there is, the more feedback you receive and the more quickly you'll be able to spot early signs of stress. Follow the guidance here it's good to talk.

It's important to build in an early warning system so you can spot early signs. By following the steps below you can keep on top of workplace issues that might be causing mental health problems.

  • Use supervision, appraisal or reviews to talk about any concerns your employee may have
  • Provide training to help staff recognise when they are stressed
  • Provide information on any services your company offers which will help your staff feel confident about your support
  • Regularly monitor how your staff are feeling, there are some tools to help you do this in how do I create a healthy workplace? There are external organisations who can audit your organisation's wellbeing to highlight areas of potential problems so you can support staff before issues arise.
  • Develop a workplace culture in which staff feel comfortable about disclosing mental health issues to you.