When Should You Be Asking If Your Colleagues Are Okay?

Starting a conversation about mental health is never easy with the people that you love, let alone those who might be working alongside you. As a majority of your time throughout the week is spent alongside your colleagues, you may be in a position to notice when things are going amiss for them.

On 9 September is R U OK Day, which was designed to breach the stigma of mental health discussion in the workplace.

Beginning that conversation with your colleagues and your team about mental health does not have to be restricted to a single day. Rather, continuing the discussion beyond that time and allowing your colleagues to feel safe within the workplace to speak about their mental health can benefit everyone in the long run.

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, employers must protect the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees.

That’s why it’s important that your employers, as well as you, should be on the lookout for signs that your colleagues and coworkers may be struggling with their mental health.

Sometimes, the way in which mental health is impacting a colleague can be a silent debilitation, but here are some of the signs that you can watch out for:

  • Grooming and appearance may have been neglected, or the colleague may not appear as put together as usual over a prolonged period.
  • Appear more tired and fatigued at work, and are struggling to complete tasks.
  • Are suffering from severe and significant changes in their mood ie. react more emotionally than the situation may warrant.
  • Appear to be overwhelmed by tasks that they had previously found manageable.

If these signs are present in a colleague, it may be the time to begin a conversation with them about if they are currently experiencing an impact on their mental health. Checking in on your colleagues is now more important than ever in these uncertain times.

Starting the conversation about mental health should take into account the time and place. Here are some tips for encouraging and promoting discussion about mental health between colleagues in the workplace and encourage reaching out.

  • Actively listening to your colleagues when they reach out and open up to you for help in resolving the matter will make them feel heard. It might not necessarily be something that you can assist with, but you can help them verbalise what might be impacting on them.
  • If they don’t wish to discuss it with you, don’t take it personally. Mental health can be a deeply personal subject that some won’t feel comfortable discussing with their colleagues. You can however prompt them to discuss it with someone they trust.
  • Ask them the following questions to see if you can help them visualise a strategy forwards in dealing with an issue at hand
  • Give them options to help them out of the situation – an employee assistance program (EAP) may be of assistance to them in this matter.
  • Encourage them to engage with professionals in mental health if they are experiencing a significant impact. There is only so much that you will be able to help your colleagues with, and that’s okay.

Mental health is slowly becoming a more discussable topic in the workplace, but there might be a number of factors that impact how a person is able to reach out to others. By promoting open and healthy communication, you can help your colleagues make mental health an approachable discussion in the workplace.

If you are concerned about anyone in the workplace, or this has raised some concerns for your own mental health, there is a professional helpline that can be contacted at any time on 13 11 14 for further information or simply for a friendly voice to talk to.