This week is Mental Health week and I am inspired to write about the critical role you can play in supporting the mental health of your teammates. For too long, people have been silent about mental health, particularly in the workplace, where the stigma of mental illness or a concern about appearing frail drives this serious issue underground. I urge you to spend a couple of minutes to think about what you can do to change things for the better.
Be aware. Pay attention to your teammates and notice when their normal patterns start to change. Is the person at the desk next to you coming in later than normal? Is he having more trouble paying attention? Is he skipping lunch in the cafeteria? If these things happen for a couple of weeks, they are all signs that something might be wrong.
Create a connection. It’s important to reach out to your teammate if she has started isolating herself. “Work has been a bit intense lately, how’s it going?” “I have missed you at lunch the last few times.” It can be embarrassing to be confronted directly, so best to give a non-threatening opportunity for her to share what’s going on if she wants to.
Listen without judgment. If your teammate does choose to share something with you, his view of the world might seem overly pessimistic. Don’t argue with him and don’t try to minimize these feelings: Listen and try to understand. “That must be difficult for you.” “How is that affecting you?”
Show concern. Sometimes, for a person suffering from mental illness, it can feel that no one notices and no one cares. Don’t be shy about expressing your concern. “I am worried about how the stress at work is affecting you.” “I’m concerned for you. I don’t want you to have to struggle with this on your own.”
Suggest help. There are so many valuable resources to help people suffering with mental illness. Do some research and find a website that you think might be suitable for your teammate. Get information on the Employee Assistance Program at your employer. If you know someone who has made use of counseling services, share how valuable they were and help your teammate to feel ok about calling.
Mental illness is incredibly common and is taking a huge toll on people and on organizations. Unfortunately, it’s often penalized as poor performance or brushed off under the heading of laziness. This can make the problem worse. Rather than being oblivious, rather than staying quiet, rather than being embarrassed, will you create a connection with someone who needs your help? It could mean the world to them. And if you were wrong, if the person is just having an off week, all you’ve done is showed that you care—and who’s going to fault you for that?