It’s estimated that as many as one in four people will experience mental health issues at some time – and the mental health organisation Time to Change says about two-thirds of people with mental health problems believe that work stress either caused their condition or made it worse.

As vet practice can be inherently stressful, practice managers should be particularly aware of this issue; even their most seemingly resilient colleagues – those who see stress as just part of the territory – can be at risk of experiencing mental health issues.

And, because of the perceived ‘shame’ or fear of losing their job, many people affected find it difficult to ask for help, so their problems will go unaddressed.

This can be damaging for the business: according to Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), mental ill-health costs UK employers £35billion each year in reduced productivity, sickness absence and staff turnover, with stress, anxiety and depression the biggest cause of sickness absence.

These are some of the early warning signs identified by the British mental health charity SANE and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the US:

  • insomnia and irregular sleep;
  • feelings of hopelessness and pessimism;
  • persistently sad, anxious or empty mood;
  • thoughts of death and suicide;
  • feelings of guilt and emptiness;
  • excessive worrying or fear;
  • avoiding friends and social activities;
  • increased hunger or lack of appetite;
  • changes in sex drive;
  • multiple physical ailments without obvious causes, such as vague ‘aches and pains’;
  • intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance.

There are further signs, which arguably could particularly threaten the safe and efficient running of the practice:

  • tearfulness or appearing withdrawn;
  • lack of energy;
  • extreme swings in mood and behaviour;
  • difficulty making decisions;
  • confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning;
  • excessive irritability or anger;
  • delusions or hallucinations;
  • substance abuse (including alcohol);
  • inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress;
  • difficulties understanding or relating to other people.

If ignored, such symptoms could obviously affect the person’s performance at work and have a detrimental effect on colleagues and customers.

Healthy employees are happier, more engaged and more productive, so practice managers should make themselves familiar with the warning signs so that they can spot any problems and try to help.

They should also consider starting conversations with colleagues to raise awareness of the issue and help ‘normalise’ it. Training is available from MHFA to help employers and their staff recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and help the people affected.