October 13, 2021

Recognizing warning signs of mental health issues in the workplace important, necessary

Behavioral health graphic These resources support the behavioral health pillar of the Healthy Boiler Program.

The Center for Workplace Mental Health, a division of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, emphasizes the importance of being able to recognize the warning signs of depression and anxiety. The center states that “the more we know about the warning signs of common conditions in the workplace, like depression and anxiety, the more proactive we can be in supporting ourselves and others.”

“It’s important for all of us to be able to recognize the signs that a co-worker is struggling,” says Candace Shaffer, senior director of benefits in Human Resources. “As acknowledged via one of the five pillars of the Healthy Boiler Program, behavioral health plays a key role in overall employee well-being, and the workplace’s role in helping create healthier, happier employees needs to be recognized. And that can start with you and me knowing what to look for in ourselves and those we work with in regards to mental well-being. Even more, Purdue continues its pursuit of adding to and enhancing its benefits and programs that support employee mental health and ensuring that the Purdue population knows these resources are available to them.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health disorders are among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States. Additionally, more attention is shifting toward mental health and the workplace as employers continually recognize that untreated mental health conditions lead to disruptive and costly challenges like absenteeism and reduced productivity. Add in the stress, anxiety and hardships related to work brought about by COVID-19, and behavioral health continues to be at the forefront of employee well-being across the globe.

Per the CDC, poor mental health and stress can negatively affect an employee's job performance and productivity, engagement with work, communication with co-workers, and physical capability and daily functioning. The CDC also states that:

  • Mental illnesses such as depression are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment.
  • Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20 percent of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35 percent of the time.
  • Only 57 percent of employees who report moderate depression and 40 percent of those who report severe depression receive treatment to control depression symptoms.
  • Even after taking other health risks — like smoking and obesity — into account, employees at high risk of depression had the highest health care costs during the three years after an initial health risk assessment.

Depression and anxiety

The Center for Workplace Mental Health shares the following information on depression and anxiety.

Depression impacts 16 percent of adults during their lifetime. Warning signs include:

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Feeling sad.
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, social withdrawal.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Changes in appetite, overeating or not eating enough.
  • Fatigue.
  • Restless activity or slowed movements and speech.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Anxiety impacts 30 percent of adults during their lifetime. Warning signs include:

  • Excessive worry.
  • Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge.
  • Sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating and/or trembling.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems.

SupportLinc, the employee assistance program provider on the West Lafayette campus, also shares these “Signs of Emotional Health Concerns” and a tip sheet on the Warning Signs of Suicidal Behavior.

How to help

Melissa Covarrubias, behavioral health counselor at the Center for Healthy Living on the West Lafayette campus, offers the following advice to those who suspect that a co-worker (or loved one) needs mental health help:

  • Learn about anxiety, depression, etc.
  • Check in on the person.
  • Make statements such as “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately – is everything OK?” or “I wanted you to know that I’m here to help or listen if you ever need it.”
  • Listen and pay attention without distractions if they do decide to share. 
  • Encourage the individual to seek professional help.
  • Continue to be a listening ear and support for the individual while waiting for their first appointment.

See the following resources from Mental Health America (MHA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for their recommendations: 

Purdue resources and health plan coverage

As a reminder, for information on how the Purdue health plan supports behavioral health care, see the following:

Behavioral health resources provided by Purdue:

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