Supporting colleagues with their mental health in the workplace can feel daunting. You don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. You don’t want to make anyone feel worse. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. It all starts with a conversation – and Kerry Leigh is here to help you find the right words.
‘Do you think you might be depressed?’
I remember the first time someone said that to me. I was a little stunned for a moment, but then replied truthfully,
‘I don’t know.’
Our conversation got me thinking, so I began researching depression. And it turned out they were right, and I got some support.
It all started with a conversation.
You see, people don’t tell the truth when you ask how they are. When we say, ‘How are you?’ Most of us autoreply, ‘Fine thanks.’
If you really want to know how someone is, make sure they know you do, e.g. ‘How are you really?’ or ‘How are you feeling?’
If you’re comfortable talking openly about your own mental health, others will follow. I experienced depression as a teenager, postnatal depression after my first child, and a few bouts of anxiety and depression since.
What’s helped? Meds, conversation, knowledge, exercise, humour. I’ve also achieved a lot in my professional and personal life and continue to do so. Mental ill-health has not stopped me from being bloody amazing.
Right Laughology team? Hello?...
If you’ve asked how someone is and they’re struggling mentally, expressing how they feel might not roll off their tongue. We’re not wired to embrace silence, but do allow pauses. They can help people think about what they’re trying to say.
What we want to do is fill the gap and offer solutions but honestly, just shush!
You’re not a trained mental health expert and that’s OK, no one is expecting you to be. What is expected is to be human, to listen and empathise (I never get tired of this clip – thank you, Brene Brown).
After you’ve listened, signpost people to the resources in your organisation. If you don’t know, then now is the time to find out. Many specialist organisations have fabulous FREE resources, such as Mind. Check out our free mental health and wellbeing resources too.
Use the words: mental health, depression, anxiety, feelings. We live in a ‘cancel culture’ world which is a bit depressing, as policing your language and behaviour can shut down a conversation. Just be mindful that when you use mental health terms flippantly it can be harmful.
For example, when a friend tidies their desk before leaving for the day and you say, ‘Oh, you’re so OCD.’ Real OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) can be debilitating. Referring to someone at work who lost their temper as a ‘psycho’ reinforces unhelpful myths about psychosis.
People experiencing mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Psychosis is actually when a person can’t distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t, and they can experience hallucinations and delusions which can be very distressing.
When someone says they have a headache at work, we offer empathy and support. We don’t think Whoa! Someone’s got physical health issues – danger, danger! Remember we’re all on the mental health spectrum and most people will experience mental illness in their lifetime, so let’s talk about it.