When it comes to mental health, asking for help is often the most difficult part. But what happens when it’s not you that’s having difficulty speaking up? What do you do if you think one of your colleagues is suffering in silence?
Mental illness is both common and treatable. It’s highly likely that someone going through mental health issues will continue to work even though they’re not well. After all people still come in when they’ve got a cold. Mental illness is invisible though, and may affect your colleague’s productivity.
The first thing you need to do is know how to spot the signs. People who are suffering from mental illness tend to show signs of poor concentration, worrying more, finding it hard to make decisions, feeling less interested and being overwhelmed.
Don’t speculate. It can be tempting to make an armchair diagnosis but remember you’re not a doctor. Don’t feel like you have to label every behavior you don’t understand. Also don’t necessarily expect an explanation. If your colleague is habitually violating the norm there might be something else going on.
Is their behavior affecting other people? If someone is down, it’s likely their mood is rubbing off on other people in the office. If this is the case, it could be time to gently explain the effect their behavior is having on others, and ask that they change it if they’re able to.
If you decide to broach the subject, remember to do so tactfully. Rather than ask someone directly if they are depressed or suffering from mental ill health, talk to them about their work or explain how their mood is affecting you and others in your office.
One of the most useful things you can do for a person suffering from mental health issues is listen. Let them know they can talk to you about what they’re going through without judgement. You don’t need to give advice, but you can offer your own experience if it’s relevant.
Generally it’s best to keep your discussions or suspicions confidential, unless you think your colleague might be a risk to themselves or others. In which case it’s probably best to go to HR.
Be careful not to become someone’s therapist. Acting as a confidante can be an awful lot of pressure. Make sure you’re ready to steer your colleague towards professional help as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do for a colleague in need is listen. Let them know you’re there to talk and encourage them to speak to a doctor. That way you show that you’re taking their mental health issue seriously and that you’re empathetic.