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Do’s And Don’ts For Supporting A Colleague With a Mental Health Concern

There are many ways to help someone going through a tough time, just make sure you do it properly

There are many ways to help someone going through a tough time, just make sure you do it properly

What should you do if you think that a team meamber is exhibiting signs of a mental health concern? What if you want to help but can’t find the right words to say? How can we be more present to those in need?

 The good news is more often than not, you don’t even need to say anything. “What’s more important is you respond sensitively to their needs and show that you care,” says Riyan Portuguez,  RPsy RPm (also known as Your Millennial Psychologist). “Your mere presence already has a powerful effect,” she assures.

Below are some ways:

Do:

  1. Dedicate enough time. If you want to get to the bottom of their issues, staying behind for an extra 30-minutes after an online meeting will not cut it. “An honest-to-goodness conversation will take hours, so be sure you won’t be distracted by other matters,” points out Riyan. 
  1. Let them lead the discussion. Allow them to share as much or as little as they want to. Don’t pressure them to tell you anything that they are not ready to talk about. Talking takes a lot of trust and courage; you might even be the first person they have been able to talk to about this issue. 
  1. Validate their feelings. “Listen actively and empathize as much as you can,” advises Riyan. Remember, you don’t have to agree with someone’s feelings or choices to acknowledge that their emotions are valid.
  1. Offer to accompany them to a mental health professional to prevent further harm. They may be hesitant to take this next step because of the stigma associated with seeking professional treatment for mental health concerns, but assure them that it is a good way for them to receive proper care. Another option you can suggest is MindNation’s 24/7 chat helpline on FB Messenger. Assure your friend that the service is free, completely confidential, and that the staff are trained to ease their anxieties. 
  1. Know your limitations. “Make sure YOU are mentally and emotionally prepared to offer help,” Riyan reminds. Self-care is critical when you are supporting someone who is in crisis. When someone unburdens themselves to you, you might end up absorbing all the strong emotions, so make sure you set boundaries and take steps to protect yourself by doing activities before and after the conversation that leave you feeling rested, relaxed, and recharged. And if you feel you have reached your limit, don’t feel bad about stepping back, but do it properly.

Don’t

  1. Diagnose. Do not make assumptions about what is wrong with the person. “When you initiate the conversation, avoid blurting inappropriate things like ‘I notice that you seem down lately, are you depressed?’” Riyan instructs. “A better way to phrase it would be ‘You seem down lately, are you okay?’ or ‘Is there anything I can do?’” 
  1. Start with “How are you?” Riyan says this is because it would be easy for the person to just say “I’m fine” even though he or she is really not. She suggests that if you want the other person to open up, a better way would be to phrase the question in such a way that it compels the responder to do an action, such as “Hey, are you free later? Let’s talk.” 
  1. Break their trust. Do not gossip about your friend’s problems to other people; neither should you report his or her mental health concerns to their boss even if your intentions are good (i.e. you want to alert them that their team member has mental health struggles). “This will cause your friend to resent you, when what you want is to maintain his or her trust in you,” Riyan points out. If you really feel that you need to get others involved, ask for permission first, i.e. “Is it okay to open this up to your team leader?” Then follow up with “I think it would be nice to mention what you told me to them, so that they can also help you.” Lastly, offer to accompany the person when he or she has that conversation as a form of moral support. 
  1. Invalidate their feelings. According to Riyan some of the things you should not say to someone struggling with a mental health concern include: 
  • “It’s all in your head” 
  • “Things could get worse” 
  • “Have you tried chamomile tea/lavender lotion/praying/going out more/etc” 
  • “Shake it off.” 
  1. Ghost, ignore, or avoid them. If you become too overwhelmed to engage with them, don’t just disappear without a world. Step back, but do so respectfully and thoughtfully. Be honest about your reasons for stepping back, and do not blame the person (in the same way that you would not blame a cancer patient for the stress that results from their struggles). Set a date on when you will next touch base with him or her so that they feel assured that you still care for them and that the timeout is only temporary. Lastly, reach out to other members of your friend’s support network and make sure they can commit to helping out if there is an emergency. 

The best thing you can do for someone struggling with a mental health concern is to instill hope. “Saying ‘We will get through this together’ assures the person that he or she is not alone,” says Riyan.

— Written by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua of MindNation

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