Supporting Colleagues

One of the most helpful things when experiencing mental ill health, is to have people around us who are supportive. It might be just knowing someone is there if you need to talk, it might be having someone check in on you, or setting aside some time to have a really good chat – support will look different to everyone.

This is also true at work and having colleagues that look out for one another can be particularly helpful for anyone who is struggling. It may not always be obvious when someone is experiencing mental ill health at work; but there are certain things which may suggest someone is struggling.

What to look out for: 

  • Changes in personality – has your colleague become more withdrawn? Unusually irritable/angry? Are they more easily upset, or tearful? Or have they started taking unexpected and out of character risks?
  • Changes in routine – has your colleague started becoming late on a regular basis and is this out of character for them? Have they started having more days off which is out of character?
  • Changes in behaviour – is your colleague struggling to keep on top of tasks? Has their usual work ethic changed? Are they making more unexpected mistakes than normal?

Every person you work with is different, and will have differing mental health symptoms, these are just a few examples of how a person’s behaviour may change at work if they are struggling.

What can I do?

  • Open the conversation – have a chat with someone, email them, let them know you are there if they want to talk.
  • Ask the person directly if they are ok – ask them at a time where it is relaxed and quiet; maybe ask them into the staff room for a coffee/go for a walk on a lunch time. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you’ve noticed some changes and just want to see if you can help.
  • Have support ideas in place: Bring some helplines the person could ring if they felt they wanted to. Or, if they didn’t open up to you give them the information anyway – just in case.
  • Ask how you can support them – everyone needs a different level of support so it’s important to let the person decide. If they are not sure, you could make some suggestions.
  • Suggest the person completes a Wellness Action Plan (see here) – you could support them with this if you want to.
  • Suggest to them that they speak to their line manager/trusted manager. Offer to support them with this.
  • Only make suggestions – it is important your colleague knows they have control over their situation, and you are not forcing them to make any disclosures/take any steps that they do not want to.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if the person is suicidal or self-harming. Sometimes people can be worried that mentioning these words will put the idea in someone’s head and cause these things to happen. In actual fact, being open and asking the questions directly means that a person is more likely to receive support if they are feeling like this.
  • If the person discloses that they are in crisis and/or suicidal then it is important to help them stay safe. Stay with the person, and if you feel out of your depth remember you could encourage them to call your local Crisis team, or accompany them to A&E. If you have immediate concerns a person will suicide call 999.

Other steps I can take at work:

  • Become a peer champion – do you have lived experience of mental ill health? You could ask to become a peer support champion – a known person that people can come to confidentially if they feel they need to talk to someone.
  • Know any useful helplines, services in the area? Put leaflets around the office and in communal areas/toilets. People can then pick the information up if they feel they need it.
  • Encourage the company to have awareness days at different points of the year – if a company is open and honest about mental health support then workers are more likely to be able to feel able to ask for support if they need it.

Remember:

  • It is important to know your own limits. Give yourself time to rest and recover if you are supporting someone with their mental health, and ensure that you have your own support network/coping strategies in place to look after yourself.