This feature was written by Alex Quang, Think and Partnerships Coordinator at Go Think Big… 

Mental Health is a complex and intricate thing. People often forget that everyone has mental health. Whether it’s good or bad is another question. When I’ve struggled with my mental health (I have depression and an anxiety disorder) I’ve usually come into work anyway. Yeah, sometimes I take a day off or a few days off but generally I come in to work. I put on my ‘go to work mask’ and try to act overly bubbly to compensate for feeling like rubbish on the inside.Sometimes it’s hard to spot if one of your colleagues is suffering with mental illness but there are some signs that I personally exhibited.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. If you’re worried about a colleague’s mental health, or want to know what to look out for, just in case, here are the top 5 signs that I showed when I was at one of my lowest points…

Poor attendance

This one is pretty obvious. Like I said, I had to take a few days off work when I was unwell. At my worst I was off for nearly three weeks. Lots of people were unsure as to why I was off and “it’s just a cold” doesn’t really cut it when you’re off for that long. I was also absent from quite a few meetings when I finally came back to work.

A change in appetite

My team knows I like food. Like, I love it. I spend an obscene amount of my monthly wages on lunch. My colleague Hayley and I are regulars in chicken shops across Hackney. But when I was most unwell, I wasn’t eating much at all. I’d go for walks and say that I’d eaten lunch. I ditched my lunch buddy and stopped eating for days. (Don’t worry, Hayley and I are back to our lunchtime feasts now!)

Change in moods

Generally I’m a pretty upbeat person with a fair bit of energy, plus a whole lot of puns and wise-cracks. I’m also the self-proclaimed funniest person in the office. However when my depression hits hard, I notice that my mood changes almost instantly and often for no real reason. I can go from Happy to Grumpy (if we’re talking about this in relation to the Seven Dwarves) in a matter of seconds and back to Happy after a few minutes more.

Loss of interest

I love comic books, video games, technology, playing music and singing, painting, youth work and social action. So, for me, a clear sign when my depression worsens is a total change in my interest levels. The things I’ve mentioned are things that make me who I am, so when I’m not interested, it’s pretty clear things aren’t quite right.

Inability to focus

Even if I haven’t lost any interest in my work, it can be pretty clear that I’m struggling if I’m completely unable to focus on anything. I can be sitting there typing out an email and my brain goes blank, my eyes glaze over and I sit there staring at the screen for an unusually long time. Alternatively, I’ve been in the middle of conversations and meetings before and stopped speaking half way through a sentence and just completely lost my place in the conversation.

These are just a few of the many signs that I’ve exhibited when my mental health takes a big ol’ dip. There’s an almost endless list of other symptoms of mental ill-health that I’ve had though, and while some are harder to spot than others, it’s always worth checking in with people to see if they’re okay. Make sure that you’re approachable and listen well. You’re not responsible for other people’s health but your interest and concern may be the difference between someone being really ill and not realising it, and someone recognising they’re ill and accessing the support that they need.

Most importantly though, make sure you look after your brain. Give yourself a break when you’re feeling stressed, go for a walk, read a book, or treat yourself to a decadent lunch.

Want to learn how you could improve mental health in your community? Don’t miss our upcoming event in Manchester!

For more information on mental health issues, visit the Samaritans or Mind website.

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