How can I tell if someone is mentally ill?

As an employer, manager, or supervisor, it is not your job or your responsibility to diagnose a mental health problem. However, being aware of the signs that suggest someone might be experiencing a mental illness is important. Mental illness includes a broad range of symptoms and behaviours, and it is not easy to determine whether someone is mentally ill. One key indicator is that someone may begin to act uncharacteristically; an energetic person may seem lethargic for a considerable time, or a person who is usually mild may make grandiose claims about their abilities.

Behaviour changes such as these may reflect personal difficulties that may be resolved quickly. They may be signs that the person is no longer happy in their job. The individual might be going through a particularly stressful time in their life for any number of reasons. These behaviour changes might, however, indicate that the person is experiencing a mental health problem that goes beyond being "stressed-out" and that requires professional help.

There are a number of warning signs that can indicate that a person has a mental health problem, such as:

  • Consistent late arrivals or frequent absences
  • Lack of cooperation or a general inability to work with colleagues
  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased accidents or safety problems
  • Frequent complaints of fatigue or unexplained pains
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Making excuses for missed deadlines or poor work
  • Decreased interest or involvement in one’s work
  • Working excessive overtime over a prolonged period of time
  • Expressions of strange or grandiose ideas
  • Displays of anger or blaming of others

It is important to emphasize that people behaving in these ways may be simply having a bad day or week, or may be working through a particularly difficult time in their lives that is temporary. A pattern that continues for a longer period, however, may indicate an underlying mental health problem.

For details on specific mental health problems, including symptoms, see CMHA website for more information. These resources may help you recognize some of the warning signs. If an employee’s behaviour is a workplace problem, talking to them privately in the context of their workplace performance may help you determine whether mental health is a factor. You may be able to encourage the individual to get help and/or request appropriate accommodation while they deal with their mental health issue.

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