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Supporting a Team Member with Mental Health Challenges
Talking about mental health is a sensitive subject that many people often struggle with, especially in the workplace. When you notice a fellow team member is not acting like their usual self, it’s best to take certain steps to make sure they’re okay and that you are there to support them.
Signs that a team member or employee might need support:
- Absences or lateness
- Outbursts or impatience
- Slow pace of work
- Under or over performing
Another sign to pay attention to is major life events (e.g., separation, divorce, death of a loved one, illness, etc.) It may not trigger a mental health problem, but it can impact someone greatly and they may need additional support.
How to support a team member or employee:
If you want to lend some support to a co-worker that you think might be experiencing a mental health issue or is going through a major life event, the most important thing to do is lead with empathy. Make sure you have the time and patience to truly listen and understand what this person is going through.
The best thing you can do is listen and give them a chance to talk. Create the space for a conversation to happen, without trying to solve the problem. Giving advice is not necessarily appropriate. Listening is the kindest thing you can do, don’t force them to talk just allow it to happen when they are ready.
Make sure to observe them and keep the conversation based around their work, not their mental health. For example, “I noticed you haven’t been as talkative lately.” Instead of, “You seem depressed.”
Never tell someone, “You’ll be okay,” or “You’re fine,” or “Cheer up.” This isn’t helpful and it comes across as a dismissive response. Ask questions and ask how you can help. If they can’t identify how, just be kind and supportive.
Empathise without making the conversation about yourself. Although it can be tempting to empathise by sharing your own struggles or experiences, redirecting the conversation to yourself can potentially shut the conversation down.
Supporting someone with mental health struggles can be a very difficult road, however, know that your support and compassion can be the difference someone needs to help themselves. If you feel your team member is open to getting help, one of the best things to do is help them find it.
If you get the sense that something serious is going on and you are concerned about their safety, talk to your manager or human resources. Although it may feel like you are going behind their back, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to significant health concerns.
The most important thing to be is compassionate. The more we try to create a safe and healthy space to open up, the better the workplace will become for those who struggle with their mental health.
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