With the average person spending 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime, our co-workers typically become part of our support network. They’re someone we turn to when we’re stressed or perhaps need to discuss issues we have in our personal lives. But when it comes to our mental health, people can be reluctant to discuss it for fear of judgement. In this case, knowing what you can do to help a co-worker struggling with their mental health can make a huge difference.
Mental health issues and illnesses aren’t always brought on by the working environment but work is a common amplifier or trigger.
A toxic working environment, long hours, feeling out of control in your role or an excessive workload can all affect employee wellbeing. This coupled with unsupportive management or prejudice surrounding mental health can push at-risk employees closer to a crisis.
One in six employees will experience mental health issues or illnesses at any one time. Though, currently, only 13% would feel comfortable discussing their mental health in the workplace.
Find out what you can do to help a co-worker with mental health issues below.
Talk to them about it
The workplace should be an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about their mental health. By simply initiating these conversations, you can enable others to feel they are safe to discuss what they are experiencing.
Not everyone who experiences mental health issues will realise that they are. And even if they do, they may well not wish to acknowledge it. A lot of this is due to the stigma surrounding mental health. But admitting they have a problem can also leave them feeling more out of control than they already do.
Unfortunately, ongoing negative response from workplaces hasn’t helped. Employees fear speaking out as they worry they’ll lose their jobs. Studies have shown that 15% of employees who disclosed mental health issues to employers faced dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion.
If you suspect someone is having a difficult time, or even if not, reassure them that they can talk with you. Start off by chatting about their general wellbeing. Whether you pick up on signs of stress or otherwise, you can lead the conversation towards mental health.
Be sure that they know you’ll treat what they say with respect. Everyone’s mental health is different, so remember to focus on the person and what it is they’re telling you. Rather than the problem.
Having a listening ear can help those who feel isolated feel like a weight has been lifted. Remaining silent and avoiding the topic is the worst thing anyone can do. So make it known that you’re someone they can approach whenever they need to talk.
Encourage them to Seek Support from the Company
If your co-worker opens up about their mental health issues, help them realise that support is available. Even if it’s not something they can get from the workplace.
Employers have a duty of care to support their employee's health, safety and well-being - which includes their mental health. Ideally, they should work with the employee to make adjustments that can help alleviate their challenges.
In many cases, small changes to their working arrangements or responsibilities can have a positive effect. These could be simple things like allowing them more rest breaks or working with them to help prioritise their workload.
Oftentimes the stigma and fear of judgement lead employees to believe they cannot discuss mental health with their managers. When in fact, many companies are only too happy to help employees in their times of need.
However, not all companies are on the same page with mental health and many still don’t offer a supportive environment. In these cases, your co-worker can involve HR in any discussions they have to ensure they’re undertaken appropriately. Or they can get an occupational health assessment to get a third party recommendation of adjustments that could be considered.
You can also encourage them to contact local mental health support services. This may be an all round better option for them if they don’t feel like they'd be supported at work.
Be Someone they can Trust
When you have these all-important discussions with your co-workers, try not to make assumptions about their issues. You don’t know what your colleagues are feeling, experiencing or how it may affect their workload.
Mental health affects everyone differently. Rather than speculating and giving them your opinions, listen and let them tell you what they need.
When the time is right, ask them questions to better understand the situation and how you can help. Your questions may help them think differently about their situation and perhaps enable them to better determine their feelings and requirements.
Respect your co-workers right to privacy at all times. You may be tempted to talk to management yourself to get them the help they need. But talking about someone else’s mental health issues without their permission is a massive overstep.
It robs that person of their right to choose and can make their feelings of anxiety, depression or powerlessness worse. Make sure they know that you can be trusted, so they feel safe coming to you for support or just a chat.
If they need help but won’t ask for it at work, encourage them to speak with outside services for guidance.
Educate Yourself about Mental Health
To help your co-workers most effectively, the best thing you can do is educate yourself about mental health.
Mental health issues and illnesses are complex and wide-ranging. By learning about them in detail, you’ll be better positioned to recognise symptoms, triggers and ways you can provide support.
Having more people educated in this area can greatly reduce the number of people facing these issues and symptom severity. They’ll be on hand to provide the essential early intervention that puts individuals on the path to the help they need.
There are many online courses you can take to gain relevant skills and knowledge you can use at work. From awareness courses to those focusing on emergency response, first aid and advocacy, there are many related to mental health.
So many employees refrain from seeking help for their mental health issues. And many employers still remain uncertain about their responsibilities to protect them. But there are ways you can gain the knowledge and skills needed to help co-workers with mental health issues.
Courses in mental health will increase your understanding of the conditions individuals can experience and how each can be effectively supported. What’s more, they are all available to study online, around your existing commitments. So you can learn without any disruption to your schedule.
learndirect is the leading UK distance learning provider, who have recently launched a course faculty dedicated to mental health education. Find out more about getting the knowledge you need online to support your colleagues.
Simply click below to view the many beneficial courses we have available.