#inyourcorner – looking out for your colleagues’ mental health
We’re talking about mental health again this month, and this time how to manage mental health in the workplace, in particular how to look out for others who may be […]
We’re talking about mental health again this month, and this time how to manage mental health in the workplace, in particular how to look out for others who may be having a difficult time.
Talk without talking
Rightly or wrongly, the British are often known for being polite, not wanting to cause a scene, and not knowing how to talk about something head-on. We can dance around the subject and never get to the point, or just keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ and not say anything at all. We feel you. So how do you start that conversation with someone who you can tell is suffering, when the thought of actually talking to them about it is bringing you out in cold sweats?
A simple gesture is often enough to get started – offering a cup of tea, a cigarette, a bite to eat, a walk around the block. Once you’re both in a safe space away from curious ears, conversation may well start to flow. But even if it doesn’t this time – the gesture you’ve made in showing you’re prepared to listen will mean more to the other person than you’ll think.
The most important thing you can do is just be open and responsive to colleagues if they need to talk. And that doesn’t mean you need to stand up and make a big announcement in front of everyone or send a company-wide email (though feel free if that’s what you want to do).
You might add something in your email signature, or have a small sign on your desk. You could wear a badge, or use a mug with a welcoming message on it. You could smile at your colleagues and ask them how they are in the morning. It all helps.
Then just be prepared to listen if someone does ever approach you. You might not know how much courage they are using to take that first step.
I’m out of my depth!
Not everyone knows much about the different kinds of mental health issue that people can be affected by, and fewer still know how to support those suffering from them. That’s fine. Sometimes being a sympathetic ear is all that is needed.
Your colleagues may wish to vent about something that you might be in a unique position to understand. They may express frustrations, or admit difficulties they are having. Take the time to ask open questions so they are able to tell you more, and help them if they are unsure of themselves. They might need some reassurance, they might need advice, they might just need you to be there.
Throughout the course of the conversation, it may become obvious that the person you’re speaking to needs more help than you’re able to give, in which case freely explain this to them, and offer to call someone – be it a helpline, another colleague, or even the emergency services. Don’t feel like you need to be a hero or struggle on your own, remember to think of yourself too!
If you’re keen on being a supportive colleague, mental health first aid training is becoming more popular, and many organisations now hold in-house training, or smaller companies may support you in receiving this training elsewhere. And many of the techniques taught can be useful outside of work as well. Ask if your employer offers this, or would be happy for you to find out more. St John Ambulance is a good place to start, with a wide variety of mental health first aid courses available.
Posters, cards and online messages can also be helpful in your immediate circumstances to let people know you’re happy to listen. Try downloading sample #inyourcorner resources or making your own here.
Why not have a chat with your manager or HR department about promoting mental health throughout your organisation. Read our blog from last month to see what other companies are doing to promote healthier working.