We all go through tough times, and people help us through them.
When you are speaking to someone about their mental health, it is important not to let your own worries about saying the wrong thing get in the way of having a meaningful conversation or showing care towards someone else’s wellbeing. Avoiding the topic altogether can have the unintended consequence of making people feel silenced or uncared for, even though that would be the last thing you intend to happen. Most people who have struggled say they were very relieved when someone brought it up with them.
If you notice that a friend, relative or colleague seems more distracted or irritable than usual, or perhaps more lethargic/hiding away, it can be helpful to put that into words and make an observation. It can be a simple ‘How are you? You seem quieter than usual’ but it can be enough to make the other person feel seen and validated and get the conversation started.
Some simple things you can do to support those around you are:
- Actively listen
Often, the best thing you can do is to simply listen, and this means creating the space for a conversation to happen, without problem solving. Giving advice fulfils our own need to “do something” at times, but it is not necessarily appropriate or helpful to the individual. Listening can be more challenging than giving advice, but it is the kindest and often most effective thing you can do.
- Be supportive, normalising and validating of their struggles
One of the fears that a lot of people carry around is that if they show vulnerability at the wrong time or with the wrong person, especially in a professional capacity, that they might be seen as less competent, weak or flawed in some way. Many people feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health with their co-workers or their employer due to the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties and fear that their struggles will impact on their progression and how they are viewed in the workplace. It is important to challenge these fears and assumptions and offer reassurance that we are all is this together and each of us will experience at some point challenging times in our wellbeing journey.
In the workplace, being part of supportive team and work structure significantly increases mental health, job satisfaction and aids individual growth and development.
Actively supporting a colleague is about paying attention to the warning signs of someone struggling and responding accordingly. It is important to note that supporting a colleague is not about taking on additional work on their behalf, it is more about lending an ear in times of need and offering space to talk, kindness, guidance, advice and inspiration through:
- Establishing a Connection & easing into a conversation:
If you suspect that a colleague is experiencing significant stress, find a quiet moment to ask them how they are feeling & doing. Ask them if they want to talk about it and allow them to lead thereafter.
- Asking how you can help
If they are unable to identify how you can help, listen and offer empathy & understanding.
- Trying to help the colleague by identifying source of stress
It may be helpful to establish whether the issue is personal, work related or both. The support that you give to your co-worker will depend on the nature of the problem. If you discover that your co-worker's problem stems from home, be tentative and sensitive in how you approach them - be mindful of keeping boundaries and do not take responsibility for your co-worker’s well-being and also judge your own capacity to be there for them.
- Validating of their difficulties
One major barrier to seeking help in the workplace is being perceived as incompetent or weak, especially if they are in a more performance-oriented culture at work. Many people feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health with their co-workers or their employer due to stigma surrounding mental health difficulties and fear that their struggles will impact on their progression and how they are viewed in the workplace. It is important to challenge these assumptions and normalise their struggles, reassuring them that mental health difficulties are common and can be overcome with the right support. Taking about your own experiences shares the message that we all have mental health, and it can help the other person feel safe and understood.
- Being kind and inspire positivity
Aim to tell a team member how valued they are or thanking the team for their hard work goes a long way.
- Encouraging them to seek support from employer and helping them find professional help, if your colleague is open to it.
It is important to instil hope and remind colleagues of the resources that may be available or encourage them to find out what support is at hand as many people fear that they will not be supported by their employer.
- Educating yourself
Knowing a bit more about mental health and wellness can go a long way in helping you not only with your own wellness but in your ability to help others.
- Practicing confidentiality (unless there is danger involved and your colleague may be suicidal).
- Trusting your gut
If you get the feeling that something very serious is going on and you are concerned about their safety, talk to your manager or talk with HR. Although it may feel like a betrayal of trust, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to significant safety concerns
- Being involved in fostering a caring culture at work that is open to discussing mental health issues
Routinely asking your colleagues how they are and being more open with others about your own difficulties can model good practice and break the stigma.
If you would like more information on how you can help someone you believe may be struggling with their mental health, or if you are not coping yourself and need information and advice, the following resources are available:
Mental Health Foundation
World Health Organisation
Call 116 123 to speak to someone 24 hours a day, or you can also talk to someone online: www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan
Written by Dr Oana Barnett, Counselling Psychologist for Psych Health, a Health Partners company.