Signs of poor mental health

Expert reviewer, Munet Hara, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at Bupa
Next review due September 2023

We’ve all heard of diagnoses like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. But having a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean that someone's mental health is poor at the moment. They could have a diagnosis of a mental health condition but be able to function well at work and home right now.

Equally, they might not have a particular diagnosis, but have symptoms of poor mental health.

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Early signs of poor mental health

Some early signs of poor mental health might be:

  • poor concentration
  • being easily distracted
  • worrying more
  • finding it hard to make decisions
  • feeling less interested in day-to-day activities
  • low mood
  • feeling overwhelmed by things
  • tearfulness
  • tiredness and lack of energy
  • sleeping more or less
  • talking less and avoiding social activities
  • talking more or talking very fast, jumping between topics and ideas
  • finding it difficult to control your emotions
  • drinking more
  • irritability and short temper
  • aggression

However, noticing some of these signs doesn’t mean you should make assumptions about what mental health problems your employees may have. Instead, use them as a way of noticing when you should check in and start a conversation about how your employee is coping.

Get to know your team

Everyone’s experience is different and can change over time. It’s not enough to look for signs of poor mental health. As a manager it’s important to get to know your team and understand what they need and when.

A good way to start is a team-building session focused on mental health. Remind your team that we all have times when our mental health changes. You might call this stress or burnout. Or you might think about it in terms of a particular diagnosis.

Ask people to share what their early signs are, such as what they may do or think when things are feeling more difficult. It might help to share your own experiences first and think about how these might affect your work.

Talk about the support you find helpful. If you start to notice these signs, in yourself or in others, what can you do? It might help to ask your team to make two lists: early signs and helpful support. They can share these with the team, or just with you.

This kind of activity can be a good starting point for developing Wellness Action Plans. It can help you understand your employees better. It can also help you become more aware of your own mental health and notice earlier when things are feeling more difficult.

Encouraging employees to open up about their mental health

You might find that your employees are reluctant to share their experiences at first. This may especially be true if your organisation doesn’t traditionally have a culture of openness around mental health and wellbeing. But you can help.

  • Explain why you’re running this session and how you hope it will help employees and the team. It may help to use our information on mental health and why it’s important to look after it.
  • Share your own experiences.
  • Make the discussion more general rather than focusing on individuals. It might help to change the focus by asking people what they think early signs in others might be, and what advice they would give them.
  • Continue to promote mental health and wellbeing initiatives across the wider organisation.
  • Start slowly by introducing ‘opening rounds’ in team meetings – for example, ask each team member to say something that makes them happy. This kind of light touch activity starts to help employees feel more comfortable talking about their wellbeing in meetings.
  • Be approachable and continue to provide opportunities for employees to speak to you when they’re ready.

We’re all different and not everyone will be comfortable sharing their experiences straight away. But the better you know each other, the easier it will be to offer the right support at the right time.

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