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Mental Illness: Spotting the Signs

What can we learn from the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain? These were two highly successful individuals who, ostensibly, had everything: successful careers, plenty of money, freedom, respect, fulfilment. But their untimely suicides point to a far darker, complex and more troubled reality, highlighting the painful reality that a person can be at their absolute lowest point without anyone around them knowing.

Do you feel confident you would spot the signs that someone around you was struggling with mental illness, that they might have hit rock bottom and really needed help? We set about finding some expert advice on this matter which we share with you here.

The best place to start is to be aware of dramatic physical or behavioural changes. For example, three common indicators often listed are: ‘lack of care over appearance’, ‘trouble sleeping’, ‘being withdrawn’ – but these are only relevant if this is unusual for the person in question. It is out of character behaviour that should be a cause for concern. =

Common things to look out for include: unusual irritability, aggression or tearfulness; loss of humour, increased consumption of caffeine/alcohol/nicotine; loss of confidence; compromised memory; inability to concentrate or make decisions; frequent minor illnesses.

In the workplace, underlying mental health issues could manifest as: 

-    Increased errors, missing deadlines or forgetting tasks 
-    Taking on too much work and volunteering for every new project
-    Working too many hours – first in, last out, emailing out of hours or while on holiday
-    Someone who is normally punctual frequently arriving late
-    Increased sickness absence 
-    Becoming fixated with fair treatment and quick to use grievance procedures 


Spotting mental ill health is as much about triggers as it is symptoms. Bereavement, divorce, having a new baby, health scares, financial concerns and a dramatic increase in pressure at work can all be contributors to the decline in mental health. If someone around you is going through one or more of these life-changing events, it’s worth being extra vigilant for any behaviour changes.