Are you concerned about the mental wellbeing of a colleague? Perhaps they’ve mentioned something to you or maybe they just don’t seem their usual self?

In this article, we’re going to discuss some top tips that we have collated from experts across the mental health sector on how you can be there for colleagues who may be having a difficult time.

But firstly, what if you haven’t picked up on anything?

As we go about our busy lives, it can often be hard to notice if others are struggling. So, what signs should we be looking out for?

Here are some potential signs that someone might be experiencing a mental, emotional, or personal problem:

  • Changes in behaviour, mood, and how they interact with colleagues
  • Changes in appetite
  • Smoking or drinking more than usual
  • Decline in performance at work, appearing noticeably stressed, disorganised or unmotivated
  • Loss of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed
  • Spending more time alone and being less sociable
Insights - Mental Health Awareness - teambulding walk and hike outside

Although these are some key identifiers, it’s important to understand that someone could be acting ‘normal’ and still be dealing with mental health problems. It’s common for people struggling to ‘put on a brave face’ – so just because someone is smiling, we shouldn’t necessarily assume they are okay. This is why we need to make sure we are regularly checking in with those around us to see if we can offer our support.

Unfortunately, there still seems to be a bit of a taboo around mental health, even though ‘1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year’.

To break down this stigma and create a more open and supportive environment at work, we need to have more conversations about mental health. This will help normalise it and make others feel comfortable to open up if they are having a difficult time.

It’s common for individuals experiencing mental or emotional problems to not feel comfortable enough to tell others and reach out for support.

However, as colleagues, we can help. Often, all it takes is checking in with someone to ask how they are.

Talking about emotions and mental health can feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Although it may feel easier to avoid the situation, by addressing any concerns when they arise means problems are less likely to escalate.

So, what should you do if you’re worried about a colleague and how should you approach these conversations?

Approach them in private. Make sure to approach them when they’re on their own, not in the middle of the office or in front of others.

Make the time. Invite them to go and get a cup of tea or coffee, go for a walk, or grab lunch with you. Try and make it outside of the workplace or in any quiet, private setting – this often helps people feel more relaxed and open.

Ask them how they are. Ask them if there is anything that has been on their mind lately or anything that’s been causing them distress. You don’t need to be a therapist to talk to someone – just be friendly, non-judgemental, calm, and empathetic. Reassure them that they did the right thing by talking to you.

Listen. Ask straight forward and open questions and then let them explain their situation in their own words. Don’t make any assumptions about how they’re feeling or what they’re going through.

Acknowledge what they’re going through. Don’t diminish their feelings or judge them. However, focus on what they can change, not what they can’t. Give them hope that things will get better with the right support.

Effectively signpost them. Educate yourself on what support there is available at your company, including where and how it can be accessed.

Don’t pressure or rush them. If they’re not ready to talk yet, make sure they know that the door is always open and you’re always there if they need to talk about anything.

Encourage them to talk. Try to encourage them to talk to their manager or someone from the Employee Assistance Programme (Or equivalent employee mental health service) if you’re concerned.

Keep it confidential. Don’t share anything that they have told you. However, if they are displaying warning signs of severe mental health problems, i.e., if you think they are at risk of suicide, seek the support of your manager or HR.

Be approachable to your employees. If you’re a manager, regularly check in with your employees and ask them how they are doing, beyond just small talk. Encourage open conversations around mental health and don’t be afraid to address any concerns if you think one of your employees is struggling. Reassure them that you are there to help and you can work through any problems together.

Insights - Mental Health Awareness - teamwork colleagues working together to complete a puzzle

We all have a part to play in creating a supportive culture at work. Please don’t forget to take the time to connect and check in with your colleagues, whether they seem okay or not.

If you’re finding things difficult, please don’t wait for things to get worse before you reach out for support. Talking about and sharing our problems can be incredibly effective at making us feel better. Most importantly, remember that you’re not alone; there is always someone who will listen and help get you the support you need.

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