Recognising the signs if your colleague is suffering from mental health in the workplace

Everyone can have those down days, especially when there’s a tight deadline or the workload is seemingly larger than usual, colleagues and even managers can feel the strain.

Understandably, tensions can run high in these situations as people handle stressful situations in different ways. Just as it is always important to take care of ourselves, it is also important to keep an eye out for the well-being of our colleagues too.

We’ve discussed what managers or employers should be doing, but how can our fellow colleagues help as well?


Firstly, how do you know if a colleague is struggling?

This can be a difficult question. Everyone is different, and any significant life event can trigger stress, where everyone has their own way of ‘dealing’ with things.

Some colleagues may be excited by challenges and thrive under pressure, which can be great for morale, but for others additional pressure at that time tips the balance from positive pressure into stress and this negatively impacts their productivity and wellbeing.

These are the colleagues you need to help. Just as nobody wants to see anybody else suffering, a colleague signed off with work-related stress can be detrimental for other team members too, by resulting in increased workload.

Getting to know your colleagues makes this situation easier. Over time you’ll learn what’s normal for them in terms of their behaviours and attitudes. Noticing a deviation from this, particularly where this is persistent, will help you recognise when they might need some extra support or care. This may be a subtle noticing, just a ‘gut feeling’ that something is wrong.


What are the mental health warning signs?

The obvious one to start with is changes in behaviour or mood, and how they maybe interacting with you and/or other colleagues.

Or perhaps you’ve noticed change in their work output, motivation and focus. They may have even had a lot of recent short team absences recently which can be associated with stress.

Other signs include struggling to make decisions, get organised or seem very uninterested in the workload, appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and even possible changes in eating habits and appetite.


Now, where do you go from here?

The first thing you can try is finding the space, perhaps on a lunch break or after hours, and genuinely taking the time to ask them about how they are.

Listen without judgement, let your colleague take as much time as is needed to vent their frustrations and offer your emotional support and understanding. Let them know there are others who would want to help too and encourage them to make contact with their GP, your workplace EAP scheme or counselling service or the Samaritans. Samaritans are happy to talk about a lot more than just suicide and can be contacted by telephone or email.

However, if they’re not ready to talk, that’s ok too. Just let them know that when they’re ready, you are always here and perhaps at a later date you could try to approach the subject again.


Final Thoughts?

It’s always better to do something than nothing.

Knowing you took the time to try and support your colleague is much better than hearing the situation got worse and you could have helped to prevent that.

We should ALL encourage an open culture within our workplace, one where ‘it’s OK not to be OK’, this can help shape a positive atmosphere where other colleagues feel they can relax and vent their frustrations when needed. We all have good, bad days, and days where we are struggling to ‘keep it all together’.

Remember that depression is a health condition, not a personal flaw or weakness and that it usually gets better with the right management and support. Look out for your colleagues, and they’ll look out for you.