How to help colleagues and staff struggling with mental health issues

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting Australian states into lock down, it is important to support people close to you who may be showing signs of a mental health condition.

There are signs and resources are available to help colleagues tackle these challenges and support someone close to you who may be struggling with their mental health.

Treat them with respect and dignity

Treating people living with mental health conditions with respect and dignity can go a long way towards creating healthy and respectful relationships.

Being non-judgmental can help break down any stigma or misunderstanding associated with mental health, which is crucial for long-term growth and happiness.

A good place to start is listening. The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to listening is that you shouldn’t be listening to respond, you should be listening to understand.

You do this by listening to the content, but also the feeling, i.e, what do you pick up that is not being said. Once you begin to understand how your family member is feeling, you’ll be better placed to show empathy and offer support.

Ask them if it’s okay to talk about how they are feeling

Talking about feelings helps to improve mental health, but it takes trust and courage.

Despite the prevalence of mental health conditions in Australia, it’s not uncommon for those dealing with mental health conditions to be reluctant to talk about their challenges. 

Start by asking directly “is it okay if we talk about how you are feeling?” and then you might follow this with “if now is not a good time I can check in with you another time?”.

When talking, you might want to start with an open question, “help me understand how this is impacting you day to day?”. Let your family member lead the discussion at their own pace, and don’t put pressure on them to talk about things they’re not ready to share.

It’s also important to let them express themselves without you interrupting.

Being sensitive and encouraging in your responses will help make them feel comfortable to open up further, and it may also be beneficial to avoid problem solving mode, which has the right intent but can often shut down the conversation rapidly.

Offer pathways of support

Support from family, friends and professionals plays a significant role in the recovery process of someone experiencing mental health issues.

When you understand what your family member is experiencing, and they feel understood, it is worth having further discussion about what additional support may be useful to them.

Encouraging someone to look after their physical health by eating right, sleeping well, and regularly exercising are always good places to start.

Empowering them to seek professional help is a healthy step forward. Offering to make an appointment with a GP or mental health specialist and ask if they’d like you to go with them. 

Follow through and follow up

Providing ongoing emotional support and a continuity of care can increase the likelihood to recover from a mental health condition.

Knowing you are always there for them is crucial in helping them recover.

Admitting that you need support can be one of the hardest steps for a person with a mental health condition, so if offers of support are made, it is important to follow through with whatever action you have stated you would do.

Once this is done, ask them directly, “do you mind if I check in with you again in a few days?”

This way you are not applying immediate pressure for them to take action, and you can keep the dialogue open so they understand they are not tackling their challenges alone.

Supporting someone with a mental health condition isn’t easy and it can affect your own mental health and wellbeing. It’s important to also look after yourself during this process.

Glenn Baird, Head of Mental Health at leading life insurer, TAL one of Australia’s leading life insurance specialists and for 150 years, we’ve been protecting people, not things. Together with our partners we protect more than 4.5 million Australians and their families