Mental health problems in the workplace: recognising anxiety disorder and burnout

Depression, phobias and stress are just some of the mental health problems commonly found among workers. The impact of these health issues is significant: apart from affecting people’s personal lives, it also means colleagues will need to cover for any work missed, and the continuity of your operations may be at risk.

In Belgium, the most common mental health problems in the workplace are burnout (recent figures show that around 10% of the working population battle acutely problematic stress or real burnout) and anxiety disorder (15.1% among women and 11.1% among men according to the European Study on Epidemiology of Mental Disorders). What are these disorders, how can you recognise the symptoms, and what can you do to help?

Burnout: mentally depleted

Sophie has been really busy with a big project at work and is running her household by herself since her divorce. Despite regularly staying back at the office to catch up on work, things have been slipping lately. She also no longer participates in social events like she used to, such as after work drinks with colleagues.  

The main cause of burnout is extreme or long-term stress due to work overload. This level of stress may originate from problems at work or at home. However, like fear, stress is not intrinsically negative. On the contrary: some people thrive on a healthy dose of stress.

Room for recovery is essential. After a hard day at work or a particularly difficult day at home, we all need time to de-stress and re-energise. People who have been unable to do this for an extended period of time will be more likely to experience burnout.

Warning signs burnout

People on the edge of burnout are oftenunaware of the fact they are experiencing this problem.  Their changes in behaviour are usually much more noticeable to others around them. However, it is important to know the difference between burnout (an energy disorder) and depression (a mood disorder).

When a co-worker is showing any of these signs or symptoms, then he or she could be experiencing burnout.


  • looks tired;
  • more cynical;
  • makes more mistakes;
  • increased working hours with reduced performance;
  • hides errors;
  • withdraws and avoids people;
  • breaks rules;
  • loses self-control.

What to do

  • be alert for changes in performance, time management, motivation or behaviour;
  • talk to them about these changes;
  • modify their list of job duties;
  • refer them to a professional if needed.

What not to do

  • Don’t make them feel guilty;
  • Don’t increase the work pressure;
  • Don’tdownplay the situation;
  • Don’t judge.

Anxiety disorder: more than just fear

Carl was involved in a car accident on the way to work. Since the accident, he no longer drives a car and he avoids the place of the accident. He even struggles with carpooling to work with colleagues, or with riding his bike along a busy road.

Fear is a natural survival mechanism. When threatened, such as in a natural disaster or robbery situation, people will either freeze or run. However, in those who suffer from an anxiety disorder, anxiety levels spin out of control and their body’s response is not in line with the level of threat they are facing. This can lead to avoidance behaviour, and it can cause the person in question to struggle with day-to-day tasks, both at work and at home. Anxiety disorders also affect relationships.  

Warning signs anxiety disorder

It is natural to feel anxious in response to stress or danger, and this feeling should disappear by itself as soon as the trigger is removed. But people with an anxiety disorder often end up in a vicious cycle. They will start avoiding feared objects or situations and get consumed by thoughts of fear and terror.  Even small things, such as seeing a specific type of car, can then cause an extreme reaction to the situation.

When you notice a co-worker doing everything they can to avoid such triggers for no rational reason, then this may be a warning sign.


  • reduced appetite;
  • often looks tired;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • irritable and restless;
  • tense or on edge.

What to do

  • Help them manage their fears and negative thoughts.
  • Keep in mind that certain triggers may seem minor to you but could lead to severe anxiety in the person affected.
  • Create room for them to relax.
  • If the problem persists, then you can refer the employee to a confidential advisor or physician.

What not to do

  • Don’t downplay the situation. Saying “Just try to calm down” will only make things worse.
  • Don’t magnify the problem by talking about it too much.
  • Don’t take it personal when your colleague lashes out at you.

Promoting psychosocial prevention and protection in the workplace

Mensura can help combat psychosocial risks in the workplace. We can conduct a psychosocial risk analysis, formulate advice and recommendations, provide hands-on assistance through our team of psychologists, offer training courses, and more. Contact us.

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