Wooden blocks spelling out Mental Health

Serious mental breakdowns at work

Can you spot the signs?

What do you think of recent issues surrounding the Jeremy Kyle show? If the story somehow escaped your attention, this is how it unfolded. ITV’s flagship morning show has been permanently closed down following the alleged suicide of one of the show’s participants. The long-running format invites such participants (usually vulnerable and disadvantaged) to discuss and potentially resolve family disputes. Episodes are characterised by the audience (more like a ‘feral mob’) relishing being whipped into a howling frenzy by the hectoring antics of the unsavoury host, Jeremy Kyle.

In something of a neat coincidence, the dramatic affair coincided with Mental Health Awareness Week, when the media, the BBC in particular has, through a number of programmes, highlighted a wide variety of mental health issues.

In this blog, we’ll look at Mental Health at work and ask the question – are you and your Practice employees sufficiently prepared to identify and subsequently deal with, colleagues who might periodically suffer from a range of mental health conditions – from mild depression or full-blown psychosis?

Let’s say a Practice employee is behaving in an erratic or disturbing fashion. The response of superiors or colleagues might vary. Often such behaviour will be ignored. Occasionally and shamefully, it will be mocked. Sometimes, it will result in disciplinary action. Either way, it’s hardly fair to judge the unusual or difficult behaviour of a team member without being conversant with the facts.

Imagine we knew how to spot the signs of mental disturbance. Suppose we just knew a little more about the causes. Wouldn’t this be a tremendous asset to our Practice and a service to our colleagues?  Wouldn’t we be much better placed to take restorative action for the benefit of all?  Not only would we be offering valuable support to our Practice team, but we’d also be reinforcing morale, not to mention, in the long run, reducing recruitment and training costs.

‘Are you OK?’

Everyone with mental health issues will have different experiences and may manifest their difficulties differently.  Symptoms will vary from person to person. However, there are a few common signs.  It’s important to remember that just because a colleague is displaying one or more of these signs, it doesn’t always they’re suffering from a mental health issue.  Their behaviour could be caused by any number of reasons.  Whatever the situation, if you think a colleague is behaving in an unusual manner, it’s always worth quietly asking, ‘Are you OK?’

Here are just a few of the signs to look out for –

Physical symptoms, such as panic attacks

These can be terrifying experiences.  A number of physical symptoms might all occur simultaneously.  Your colleague might begin to perspire and shake.  They might have difficulty breathing or suffer a choking sensation.  They could feel as though their heart is racing or feel chest pains.  This could make them worry that they’re suffering from a heart attack, or that they’re about to die.  Panic attacks like these can be the result of mental health issues.  With professional help and/or medication, the problems can be eased.

Psychological Signs

These can be harder to pick out.  You sometimes need really sensitive antennae to spot them.

Confused or distracted behaviour

This could be just part of their personality, but, if this type of behaviour is abnormal and is paired with one of the other signs identified here, then there may well be a mental health problem.


Lapses of memory can be relatively easy to identify as a symptom of potential mental ill health.  It can lead to disorientation or confusion.  Forgetfulness can have a variety of causes, including excessive stress or trauma.


Tearfulness can be a symptom of personal difficulties, stress or poor mental health.  Whatever the cause, a quiet word, along with support from colleagues is an essential first step.

Behavioural signs

It’s easy to misinterpret these as poor manners or work ethic.  They can result in unfair and unwarranted disciplinary proceedings.  If you spot these signs amongst your team, especially if they are uncharacteristic, try a gentle word, offering help. Typical behaviour styles include –

Aggression or anger

Sudden displays of anger or irritability in a colleague can be a sign of anxiety or other problems, particularly if the behaviour is out of character.

Excessive risk-taking

Has an employee started to take uncharacteristic risks?  Do they seem to be acting impulsively in their decision making?  These could be signs of schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder.  You should do all you can to signpost your colleague to a professional for help.

Increased absence

It might be tempting to respond to this behaviour with immediate disciplinary action.  But it’s always wise first to investigate and find out whether the employee is suffering from any personal issues.  The first step should always be to offer support and help if appropriate.

Goodbye to macho-management

Remember – the days of macho management are long gone – thank goodness!  By being supportive of colleagues or employees who show signs of mental distress, you will not only be making a real positive difference to someone’s life.  You will also be investing in their good will and respect, as well as that of your entire team.

One option for you is to bring in a mental health specialist to speak to your Practice Partners and employees about the issue. What matters is to be conscious of, and sensitive to, the all-round health and well-being of your people. An attitude that will reap all kinds of benefits … and cost you nothing.

Here to help

As specialist recruiters for the accountancy sector, we’re committed to finding the best company-candidate fit. We’re perfectly placed to help with a vast array of accountancy recruitment issues. Find out more. Call 0333 577 7787.

Email –  info@PublicPracticeRecruitment.co.uk

Or complete our submission form.


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