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How to Support Coworkers through Mental Health Challenges (Part I)

Rangam Jun 2, 2023 8:11:22 AM
Three working women motivate a colleague, highlighting the importance of mental health in the workplace

Whenever Alma asks her coworker, Chen, how she’s doing, she receives the same answer: "Fine." However, as her desk neighbor and friend, Alma knows that "fine" is far from the truth.

Chen has been struggling with anxiety and depression for the past few months. She’s been coming to work late, having trouble focusing on her tasks, and withdrawing from social interactions. It’s getting tough for Alma to watch, and even tougher to figure out how to support her.

As someone who had gone through their own mental health challenges, Alma knows how isolating and overwhelming it can feel. But does it have to be that way?

With some understanding, empathy, and action, we can all create a supportive culture in our workplaces — a culture that’s comforting and reassuring to those who may be struggling. Let’s explore how we can address mental health challenges in the workplace.

Walk Through a Challenging Conversation

Addressing mental health in conversations with co-workers can at times feel uncomfortable or out of place. However, if we really want to help someone overcome their mental health challenges, we mustn’t shy away from challenging conversations or interactions. Let's say that one day, Chen was having a particularly tough morning and was visibly upset. As her coworker, Alma could approach her and ask if everything was okay. Chen might respond with a terse "fine," but Alma could tell her that she was there to listen if she wanted to talk. By providing an opportunity for Chen to talk about her mental health challenges, Alma is showing she is a safe person for her to share her experiences and discuss them without fear of judgement.

Let Empathy Be the Guide

It’s important to put empathy over judgment or frustration when dealing with mental health challenges. Saying things like "just cheer up" or "you're not the only one with problems" may only make things worse. Back to our story, Alma could validate Chen’s feelings by saying "I'm sorry you're going through this" or "that sounds really tough." By showing Chen that she wasn't alone in her ordeal and that her feelings were valid, Alma could help create a safe space for her to open up.

Find a Tangible Solution

Though finding a solution may not always be possible, if a co-worker is looking for advice, it is crucial to come up with a solution that’s tangible and practical for the person experiencing mental health challenges. Alma sought out resources for Chen to get professional care, checked in on her regularly, and remained a friendly but not intrusive presence in her life. Alma knew that she probably couldn't fix Chen's problems, but she could at least support her as a friend and colleague in the workplace.

Bringing It All Together

It isn’t always easy to support a coworker with mental health challenges, but it’s worth the effort to make our workplaces a better environment for everyone. After all, we all spend a significant portion of our lives at work, and it only makes sense to support our colleagues and make the experience memorable while it lasts.

Do you have a similar experience in your workplace? What would you have done if you were in Alma’s shoes? We’d love to hear from you!

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