Kevin R.

Spotting the signs of poor mental health in your drivers

In part two of his article on Mental Health and the effect it can have on your workforce and also your business Kevin Robinson looks at how employers can spot the signs that one of their team may be affected by poor mental health.

As somebody who suffered from poor mental health myself over a number of years whilst at the same time not speaking up, it is now refreshing to see the subject being offered the level of coverage it deserves.

Believe it or not, in the UK alone, mental ill-health, including stress, depression and anxiety, is thought to be responsible for 91 million lost working days each year – more than for any other illness.

Analysts reckon that this sickness absence costs £8.4 billion each year, plus another £15.1 billion in reduced productivity. A further £2.4 billion is lost replacing staff who leave work because of mental ill-health.

So how do we, as employers, legislate for this and instil within our organisations a culture where we, and those we employ, understand what signs to look for in their colleagues, and also to feel sufficiently empowered to ask the question, “Are you okay?”

Across the UK, employers are failing to provide adequate support to employees or equip managers with the skills to help them – so says the Mental Health at Work report released in January 2017 – and the situation has barely improved since, with many citing a lack of knowledge around the subject as the key issue.

More than three quarters (77%) of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in their lives, and managers are underequipped and undersupported when needing to respond to mental health issues in the workplace.

Managers need and want to help – 76% believe that staff wellbeing is their responsibility – yet 80% say organisational barriers prevent them from delivering on this.

Despite all the good work that’s being done to normalise conversations around mental health, stigma does still exist, which makes it hard for people to feel that they can talk openly about their mental wellbeing, particularly in the workplace. It’s vital that more is done to encourage discussions about mental health, between colleagues and also between staff and their managers.

As Prof Tim Marsh, together with Louise Ward – thought leaders in the fields of cultural safety and wellbeing, said in their recent book A Handbook of Organised Wellbeing

“We all have mental health just as we have physical health, but it can seem more difficult to spot the signs of mental ill health.”

So what triggers poor mental health?

People often undergo significant life changes without developing a mental health issue. But significant changes in someone’s work or personal life, including happy events, can prove stressful and challenging to adapt to.

Here are just some of the sorts of circumstances which might trigger mental ill health:

Personal life changes:

  • Bereavement
  • Divorce or relationship breakdown
  • Having children
  • Health scares or physical illness

Changes at work: 

  • Starting a new job
  • Coping with an increased workload or a new job role
  • Poor relationships with colleagues or managers
  • Redundancy, or fear of redundancy

So, what are the signs of poor mental health?

Recognising a mental health issue is the first step in accessing the support needed to recover. Some signs of common mental health issues include:

Physical

  • Frequent headaches or stomach upsets
  • Suffering from frequent minor illnesses
  • Difficulty sleeping or constant tiredness
  • Being run down
  • Lack of care over appearance
  • Sudden weight loss or gain

Emotional and behavioural

  • Irritability, aggression or tearfulness
  • Being withdrawn, not participating in conversations or social activities
  • Increased arguments or conflict with others
  • Erratic or socially unacceptable behaviour
  • Loss of sense of humour
  • Indecision and procrastination
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Increased consumption of sedatives or stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes or even pills and medication, whether prescription or ‘over the counter’
  • Being louder or more exuberant than usual
  • Loss of confidence
  • Difficulty remembering things

At work

Look out for these signs in the workplace that an employee may need support with their mental health:

  • Increased errors, missing deadlines or forgetting tasks
  • Taking on too much work and volunteering for every new project
  • Working too many hours – first in, last out, emailing out of hours or while on holiday
  • An employee who is normally punctual frequently arriving late
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Becoming fixated with fair treatment and quick to use grievance procedures

Okay, so I have noticed one of my employees is displaying signs of poor mental health, what can I do?

Most of the time those suffering from poor mental health don’t even know that they are and, even if they do, they will more than likely be in denial.

But the fact is that those suffering will, more often than not, be withdrawn, and sometimes just a chance to offload is invaluable. All in all, it comes back to that very simple question… “Are you ok?”

This can often open the floodgates. Equally, however, those asking the questions must feel confident to do so, and understand how to deal with what may come back at them.

There are many programmes from various leading authorities, all designed to reinforce this greater understanding and ability to intervene where necessary, all of which have their own individual merits.

This year, however, Driving for Better Business, alongside the Fleet Transport Association, are proud to support the Safer Highways legacy programme, designed to develop a complete resourse, in the form of an awareness programme surrounding Mental Health, for use by all employers working within the highways sector. Developing this will be an Advisory Council of 40 thought leaders and industry experts with a wealth of experience in developing and implementing effective programmes such as these.

To conclude

Mental Health really does matter within every organisation. British employers lead the world when it comes to safe working policies and practices but our position on health is much less advanced. The business case for a proactive attitude towards health, and mental health in particular, is undeniable, so when making budgetary decisions now, more than ever, it is time to give mental health awareness programmes equal funding and priority.

Part One: Poor mental health a driving factor in accidents