|Table of Contents|
Many people living with a mental illness have a similar anecdote: they often say, once they are feeling much better, that their recovery began when someone took an interest in them, showed that they cared, and took the time to be an ear for them when they felt very low or alone. You have the chance to be that person. (Resource: Men’s Health).
The COVID-19 crisis has meant that many employees are facing difficulties both inside and outside work, and so they may benefit enormously from simple and supportive conversations with managers and colleagues who can help them if they feel anxious or depressed.
Here are some ideas that might help you have such conversations and lend a hand to help your colleague to thrive again.
Overcoming the Fear of Discussing Mental Health
You don’t need to be an expert to talk to someone who isn’t coping so well. With proper mental health resources, you should be reassured you will not make things worse. While you may feel uncomfortable talking to someone about your concerns regarding their mental health, simply letting them know you care can make a difference to how they are feeling and may pave the way to create an open dialogue.
By talking and listening, you can create an opportunity to encourage someone to seek help if needed. Everyone experiences mental health issues at some time in their lives, and it is vital not to underestimate the importance of just being there for someone. Many managers will be hesitant to begin a conversation out of fear of:
If you're concerned about someone, approach them and start a conversation. Try to understand their situation and encourage them to seek support. Helping the person find further information and support services can also be really useful, as this step can often be overwhelming for someone with anxiety or depression.
Remind yourself that this is no different to talking about how someone's feeling – the topic is just a bit more delicate. Remember you may be the only person to have noticed changes in their behavior or have the courage to start a conversation. This may be vital for them to get the help and support they need to stay well.
Planning a Conversation
When you’re preparing to approach someone, it can be helpful to:
If possible, set aside enough time to talk in detail. Give yourself a buffer between this conversation and the next. Ending a helpful conversation too early can appear aloof and send the message that your colleagues concerns are not really a priority.
Beginning the Conversation
Whether you are a manager concerned about someone in your team or speaking to a peer, the following tips will help you start the conversation. Don’t worry if you don’t quite know what to say. Just by being supportive and listening, you’re helping to make a difference:
Begin the conversation by telling them that you have noticed that they don’t seem their usual self and describe the changes you’ve noticed in their mood or behavior. Tell them you are worried about them and ask about what is bothering them. Some phrases that might help you get started:
While having a conversation, let the other person know they are not alone, and there is hope that things can get better. Be patient and understanding. It is important to remember that setbacks will occur. Help them overcome any setbacks and ask questions such as: What can I do to support you with this?
Check-in with them frequently to see how they are going. This shows that you care about them and provides an opportunity to talk. Point out any improvements you notice and encourage them to continue to speak with you about anything that may be worrying them.
Remember, supporting someone else can sometimes be draining on your own mental health and well-being. It is important to look after yourself by making sure you are getting enough sleep and take time out for yourself or seeking help from others when you need it.
Asking Questions to Keep the Conversation Going
A core communication skill is asking ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’ questions. Open questions are ones which encourage the person to respond freely with their thoughts and feelings. Closed questions classically produce a one-word answer, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or a fact – ‘yesterday’ or ‘seven’. Remember that:
For example, ‘Are you feeling better today?’ is a closed question. The colleague doesn’t have to answer anything more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Or they might just answer with a grunt or a shrug of the shoulders. All you have to do is change the question slightly. Turn it into ‘How are you feeling today?’ and the colleague has the opportunity to describe how they feel. Open questions, therefore, are much better at providing information. Open questions are an avenue leading somewhere; closed questions are a dead end.
What to Do if Your Colleague is Reluctant to Share How they Feel
Some people are not ready, do not know how, or may not want to speak to someone about how they are feeling. Remember, however, that the longer someone delays getting the help they need, the more distressed they are likely to become, putting them in a much harder place to recover from. While this is very worrying for people close to them, it doesn’t help to pressure them to talk if they are not ready; the decision to speak about their feelings needs to come from within. So, what can you do?
Remember, you don’t need to have all the answers or to deal with the situation on your own. There are many others in your organization who can provide advice and support.
The Importance of ‘Active’ Listening
Sometimes the conversation you have with a colleague will be the first time they have talked about their mental health with someone else. It’s important to carefully listen to what they say and to do so in a way where they feel confident and heard sympathetically without judgement. Remind yourself about why being listened to during a difficult time can help your colleague feel better:
It’s also important to listen carefully without judging them:
Responding to What They Say
Think about the best way to respond to what your colleague is saying. You can’t always fix things, but you can help them along the way. For example, you might:
Agreeing on Next Steps
Ideally, at the end of each conversation about mental health problems you can summarize one or two things you have agreed to do when you speak next. For example, you might:
What if Something Unexpected Comes Up in Your Conversation?
Sometimes a conversation raises an issue or a feeling that you did not expect. Again, you can’t be expected to have all of the answers, but remember that: