First Signs of Mental Health Concerns

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.” When we struggle with our mental health, every aspect of our lives can be impacted, especially work. So how do we determine if we, or someone we work with is struggling?

When looking for the first signs of a mental health concern, there are two types of changes that can be recognized in an individual: behavioural pattern changes (e.g. being late, forgetful, missing work) and emotional changes (e.g. defensiveness, irritability, apathy). These changes contribute to an inability to complete job tasks and may present in unfinished or past-due work. If you notice any of these signs in your employees or colleagues, it may be beneficial to check in with that person and let them know that you are there to support them. Even though mental health concerns are extremely common, many individuals may feel isolated or alone during their struggle. By reaching out and offering support, you are letting that person know that they are not alone and that support is available.

Psychological Safety in the Workplace

“Employees who are psychologically healthy also tend to be resilient, innovative, engaged, and satisfied at work. Conversely, research has linked reduced psychological health and safety to lowered productivity, absenteeism, and turnover, as well as to increased health care expenditures” (Government of Canada, 2018). A psychologically healthy and safe workplace benefits everyone involved, where individuals who may be struggling feel safe to reach out for support. There are three main themes related to psychological safety in the workplace: respect, communication and ownership. 


A healthy work-life balance will help employees to limit the impact of personal stresses on their work performance as well as the impact of work stress into their personal lives. 

As a manager, supervisor, or colleague, setting an example and demonstrating respectful behaviours sets the standard for your work environment. Furthermore, encouraging employers to recognize employees’ contributions effectively promotes strong self-efficacy and a sense of pride in the work that your employees are doing. Higher self-efficacy in the workplace reduces work related anxiety and in turn improves job performance.


By defining employees’ duties and responsibilities, the expectations you have of your employees can be better aligned with what they expect in that role. By having practices in place for conflict resolution, you will be more prepared if a situation arises and you are demonstrating to your employees that you are there to protect and support them. 


It is important to support employee participation and decision-making by fostering agency and independence, workers will feel more invested in the work they are doing. Adjusting workloads to the varying needs of employees decreases the risk of burnout. When employees are confident in their ability to do their job, they are more likely to be resilient and take pride in their work, this is why providing training and learning opportunities is critical to fostering a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

Available Supports for Workplaces

Now you have learned the first signs of mental health concerns and how to foster a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, but what other resources are available in the workplace? Here are just a few options available both within your organization as well as external supports:

Healthy Minds@Work: The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has developed Healthy Minds@Work. This is a hub of tools and resources to support people in their efforts to address psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Opening Minds: The Mental Health Commission of Canada created the Opening Minds initiative which “aims to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness by changing attitudes and behaviours. It is the largest systematic anti-stigma effort undertaken in Canadian history.” (Kirsh et al., 2018)

Mental Health First Aid: Mental Health First Aid, developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, aims to improve mental health literacy and provide the skills and knowledge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or a colleague

Employee Assistance Plan: An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free (for the user) and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems.  EAP counselors also work in a consultative role with managers and supervisors to address employee and organizational challenges and needs.  Many EAPs are active in helping organizations prevent and cope with workplace violence, trauma, and other emergency response situations.

About the Author:

Alyssa Boudreau, M.Ed., LCT-C – Family Enrichment and Counselling Service

Alyssa Boudreau is a Licensed Counselling Therapist Candidate who received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Education at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. At Family Enrichment and Counselling Service, Alyssa provides counselling to adolescents and adults with a variety of concerns such as, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, relationships and stress management.


Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (2022). Mental health – Psychosocial risk factors in the workplace.

Government of Canada. (2018). Mental health in the workplace. 

Redekopp, D., & Huston, M. (2019). The broader aims of career development: mental health, wellbeing and work. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 47(2), 246-257.

Kirsh, B., Krupa, T., & Luong, D. (2018). How do supervisors perceive and manage employee mental health issues in their workplaces?. Work, 59(4), 547–555.

World Health Organization. Promoting mental health: concepts, emerging evidence, practice (Summary Report) Geneva: World Health Organization; 2004.