Early warning signs of mental health problems at work

Melinda*, HR manager

"In so many cases, managers or colleagues, they might think that there's a problem but they avoid it, they don't ask early enough.

John*, OHS manager

"If someone broke their arm we wouldn't be worrying about whether or not we were liable, we'd just send them to the doctor. It should be the same for mental health problems."

*not his real name

Karen*, occupational physician

"Some employers think that if they accept that there is a problem, then that means they are accepting liability.

Watch this short film about recognising mental health problems in your employees:

Early warning signs that may show up at work in someone developing a mental health problem include*:


  • not getting things done
  • erratic behaviour
  • emotional responses
  • complaints of lack of management support
  • fixation with fair treatment issues
  • complaints of not coping with workload
  • withdrawn from colleagues
  • reduced participation in work activities
  • increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and/or sedatives
  • inability to concentrate
  • indecisive
  • difficulty with memory
  • loss of confidence
  • unplanned absences
  • conflict with team members/manager
  • use of grievance procedures
  • increased errors and/or accidents.

Physical / physiological signs

  • tired all the time
  • sick and run down
  • headaches
  • persistent/resistant musculo-skeletal complaints
  • reduced reaction times
  • difficulty sleeping
  • weight loss or gain
  • dishevelled appearance
  • gastro-intestinal disorders
  • rashes

*With thanks to Dr Graeme Edwards, Medibank Private

As with many things, taking action early is likely to prevent problems getting more serious and causing major difficulties later on. If you have noticed these signs in one of your employees, some suggested ways of approaching them include:

“You’ve been looking really tired lately, is everything okay?”

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been turning up to work late, is there anything going on?”

“Is there any support that we can offer?”