Managing a Mental Health Crisis in the Workplace

Managing a Mental Health Crisis in the Workplace

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day 2022, our blog for this month will cover how to manage a mental health crisis in the workplace.

Stress, anxiety, and depression (SAD) are collectively a major cause of work-related illness, and mental illness in general is a leading cause of long-term absences from work. More than 3 in 10 people have experienced mental illness while in employment.

If mental illness becomes particularly severe, it may lead to a mental health crisis. A mental health crisis is a situation where the person is at risk of harming themselves or others, and impedes the person’s ability to function normally.


How to recognise the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis in the workplace

There may not always be signals leading up to a crisis, however there are some common signs and symptoms. Note that mental health is complex and this list is not exhaustive. 

  • Changes in work performance, including a substantial decrease in productivity or decline in quality. 
  • Anger or irritability – Mental health issues such as stress or anxiety may cause the person to become frustrated or angry more easily than usual, and this may manifest in reactive behaviour and even conflict.
  • Overall low mood or mood swings – the person demonstrates rapid changes from high to low moods and generally erratic mood.
  • Increased levels of anxiety, or increased agitation or restlessness.
  • Changes in appearance, for example the employee starts to appear unkempt or dress inappropriately, or they appear tired.
  • Increased absences – People may need more time off to rest mentally and emotionally. Mental illness can also cause physical symptoms such as fatigue or headaches, which may cause an increased need for time off. What’s more, according to a poll of 2,000 people in the UK, 55% of people told their employer they were absent due to physical illness, instead of revealing that they were having mental health struggles.
  • Decreased interest or focus – the employee seems less interested or engaged with their work, or they are having trouble concentrating on their work. 
  • Social withdrawal – the employee is not engaging socially to the same extent that they had previously, for example at team lunches.


How to help an employee who is experiencing mental distress

According to the Employment Equality Act (2015), employers are obliged to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, including mental and emotional wellbeing. Under this legislation, employers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including mental and emotional disabilities.

Examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • Allowing the employee to take time off to attend medical appointments.
  • Provision of mentoring and peer support at work.
  • Discussing return to work arrangements with the employee if they have taken time off due to mental health issues.
  • Making adjustments to working hours or allowing the employee to work from home. (Source)
  • Employees are not obligated to disclose any disabilities or mental health issues they may have. Foster a culture where mental health is talked about openly. This will help to reduce stigma.
  • Make your employees aware of the resources that are available to them, by signposting them to services such as helplines, seminars, or support groups.
  • Review workloads and working arrangements to help alleviate stress and risk of burnout.
  • Providing support such as extra supervision, help with managing workload, and more constructive feedback.


There are many more accommodations that can be made, and employers should have a discussion with the employee to ascertain their individual needs.

Are you looking to increase your ability to manage mental health struggles in your workplace? Ayrton provides a Mental Health First Aid Course which teaches participants how to assist people who are experiencing stress or distress due to mental health conditions. Learners will be taught how to implement appropriate and timely interventions to support colleagues experiencing a mental health issue.

Read more about this course here.

If you’d like to speak to us about this or any other health and safety issues in your workplace, contact us on 021 421 0331 or

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