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With greater awareness surrounding mental health and charities like Mind working hard to remove the stigma, we all have a responsibility to look out for our friends and colleagues, both at home and in the workplace. Mental health problems like anxiety or depression are complex and sometimes require support and treatment for life. So, what can you do if you are worried about a colleague’s mental health?
Perhaps you have noticed that a member of your team is more tired than usual or lacks motivation. These could be early warning signs of a problem, especially when combined with outbursts of anger or emotion, absences from work, or a failure to look after their appearance as they usually would. Fear of discrimination or shame are two of the reasons why people don’t feel they can talk about their feelings, so one of the biggest things you can do for your colleague is to encourage them to open up. Asking them to share how they feel with you could help them to deal with their troubles, so be encouraged to lend an ear. If they don’t want to talk to you, don’t be disheartened, as it is very difficult to have this type of discussion at work. Perhaps you could help by addressing the issue sympathetically with their line manager, or encouraging them to seek support from beyond the workplace, whether that’s from a family member, GP or counsellor.
Make sure you respect your colleague’s confidentiality and be kind and respectful – if they are putting their trust in you, this is a massive step in the right direction. Nevertheless, it can be extremely hard to hear things that are upsetting or make you feel uncomfortable. Try to reassure the person that they are fine to talk openly, and avoid showing signs of alarm or distaste. This is tricky but it’s a great life skill. If you decide to arrange a time for a longer chat outside of the workplace, this shows real support for your colleague. You could even try suggesting taking part in some form of exercise together to boost their self-esteem. A walk in the park, round of golf or game of tennis after work is guaranteed to help them look and feel better. If they have a particular hobby that they enjoy, do encourage them to invest more time in it. What better way to beat stress and forget about their problems for a couple of hours?
Supporting a colleague with a mental health problem is all about helping them to stay well and ensuring that the workplace is a safe and pleasant place to be. The best expert on a person’s needs is the person themselves, so if there is one golden rule for supporting a colleague, it is never to assume and to always ask. The line manager can play a crucial role in accessing support and ensuring that the workplace is not playing a detrimental role in the mental health of staff. They can also assist in managing absence and a return to work (a change of scenery or a change of pace is great for your mental health), as well as offering additional assistance with their work and creating social opportunities to engage with the team. A caring culture that focuses on fostering a safe environment where people can discuss their issues without discrimination is a necessity of every workplace today.
Eating and drinking well are also important factors in maintaining good mental health. It can be hard to keep up a healthy pattern of eating at work, so why not ask colleagues if they would like to join you in a healthy lunch club and get away from their desks? You could make the most of a local park (weather permitting, of course), and take turns in providing nutritious lunches or pieces of fruit for snack-time.
Last but not least, you can do your bit by learning all about mental health from information booklets and websites that offer support. All employees, regardless of rank or responsibilities, can benefit from finding out the basic practical steps to promoting wellbeing in the workplace. It is an issue that we will all face at some point in our lives, so it’s best to be armed with the right information. That way, should you find yourself in a position where you can help tackle the poor mental health of a colleague, you will know what to do.