Mental health problems are very common. As Ruby Wax has said, “One in five people have dandruff. One in four people have mental health problems. I’ve had both.”
However, many if not most people experience recovery from their mental health conditions; if not fully and completely, then at least to an extent that enables them to lead a fulfilling life for extended periods of time.
Quick resources on supporting people in the workplace.
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Back to Staying Safe and Well: Mental Health
Simple ways you can support colleagues with a mental health problem
The most important thing is to continue to treat the person with the same respect and dignity you would wish to have shown to yourself.
Often the most valuable way to support is just to listen without judging. This means accepting the person as they are, trying to hear not just the spoken words but the intended meaning behind them, and allowing them to feel through your words, tone of voice, and your body language that you are genuinely trying to understand their situation.
If you work closely with someone you know has a mental health condition, you may find they have good days and bad days. It’s important not to blame them if they are having an ‘off’ day even if it impinges on your work, as they will undoubtedly be doing their best even if it’s not up to what you would usually expect. Blaming them is only likely to make matters worse, as a common experience in the workplace is to feel guilt at letting colleagues down, which can often spiral down into a worse state of mental health.
When your colleague wants to talk, let them share as much or as little as they want to. Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your solutions.
Reassure them that what they tell you is private. Ask them if they have discussed their situation with others and whether they want or don’t want you to mention it to anyone else. Ask them how they would like you to help them.
You can ask questions to help you understand what they are going through, but make it clear that they don’t have to answer any that make them feel uncomfortable. Keep your questions open-ended and try to keep your language neutral.
Talk about wellbeing and ways of de-stressing such as exercise, good diet and relaxation which can all help improve mental wellbeing. Ask if your colleague is in touch with any self-help groups or has supportive friends.
The Mental Health First Aid course run by Staff Development provides greater depth of information and practical skills for helping someone with a mental health problem.
The MIND web site has a gateway into a wide range of supportive information pages.
Free fact-sheets on a wide range of mental health-related issues from Rethink.
1. Andrews, G. et al. (2005) Lifetime risk of depression: restricted to a minority or waiting for most? British Journal of Psychiatry 187: 495-496.