University of Wisconsin–Madison

Identify and Recognize

Sometimes you might notice a behavior affecting an employee’s work and think they might be in need of mental health support. Oftentimes our brains will jump towards creating solutions for another individual. It is important you slow down to avoid doing this, as it can cause harm, instead of supporting the individual. Below is a strategy of how you can provide support for employees you think might be in need of mental health support.


Your first step is to recognize what is going on. Recognizing is the process of identifying specific warning signs in people around you that suggest they may be struggling with their mental health. You have the benefit of knowing the people in your life and what they are like when they are not in distress. Trust yourself to recognize when someone is different from how they usually are. In fact, you likely do this already! Don’t hesitate to connect with your Divisional Disability Representative or local HR Representative if you want to discuss concerning behavior.

Here are some signs that could indicate an employee is in need of mental health support. Remember, there is not one typical way that people behave when they are struggling with their mental health.

  • Unusual displays of emotion, overreactions or mood swings.
  • Change in mood.
  • Impaired job performance.
  • Impaired concentration, judgment or indecision.
  • Low energy or fatigue.
  • Consistently arriving for work late or leaving early.
  • Someone who is suddenly working more than usual or at irregular hours that isn’t because of a specific work need.
  • Employee tells you directly about a personal crisis or ongoing issues.
  • Employee makes comments to you or others that make you concerned about their well-being.
  • Observable physical changes such as swollen, red or glassy eyes or change in personal hygiene.
  • Isolating themselves from others or places.
  • Lowered self-worth or confidence.
  • Change in sleep.
  • Out-of-character behavior.
  • Not showing up for obligations.
  • Relationship difficulties.
  • Referencing suicide – consult with resources immediately.

Reflect on what you are observing - What’s going on?

As you are noticing what is going on with an employee, be sure you can specifically describe the employee’s behavior. Ask yourself, “What examples have I seen or heard that lead me to describe the behavior in this way?” and “Is this a change in behavior for this employee?” Remember that you don’t want to diagnose. So if you notice yourself thinking, “Adam seems really depressed lately,” ask yourself, “What specific behaviors have I seen, or what have I heard, that lead me to describe it this way?” You might come to, “Adam has been showing up for work late and he is withdrawn when he is usually very social.” Arriving late for work and a change in mood are both signs that might mean it is a good time to check in with the employee to see how things are going.

As you are recognizing what is going on with employees, it is always important to check in with yourself. Ask, “How do I feel about what I notice?” By understanding your own emotions and feelings, you will be better positioned to manage your own stress, and in turn better support your employees by being understanding.

Remember, people respond to situations differently and you must consider each person as an individual. Do not generalize the employee’s behavior or link it to someone else’s behavior. For example, you observe the employee crying at work and you have a friend who is diagnosed with depression who also cries at work. Don’t assume your employee also has depression just because the behavior is the same.


Do not feel that you need to handle everything on your own. If you need support working through the process of supporting others’ mental health at any point, consult with your resources. Consultations can help you work through your own perceptions, emotions, feelings, and options for responding to the specific situation. Remember, every person and every situation is unique, which means addressing it must also be unique to the situation.

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