Supporting a Colleague Facing a Mental Health Issue

on December 7, 2016
Supporting a Colleague Facing a Mental Health Issue

In this webinar, UBC Associate Professor of Psychiatry and co-founder of CREST.BD, Dr. Erin Michalak, and actress and mental health educator, Victoria Maxwell, address how to support a colleague facing a mental health issue. Click here to view this webinar.

Addressing mental health concerns in the workplace is often difficult. Many in the workforce are unwilling to seek help for a mental health issue, or are unwilling to admit they are struggling with a mental health condition.  To complicate matters, inadequate mental health awareness often results in disciplinary action, termination, or other negative consequences for an employee who demonstrates “abnormal” behaviour in the workplace (likely due to an untreated mental health condition).  This causes the employee stress, and mounting pressures.

To prevent a colleague’s mental health from deteriorating to the point of job termination, it is important to be proactive and discuss the colleague’s behaviour before it escalates. However, discussing a potential mental health condition with a colleague may not be well received. The individual may lack insight into their mental health condition and react with resentment. If a colleague is aware of their mental health issue, they may not be ready to accept their condition as a reality, and will likely avoid seeking treatment. Both scenarios can create friction between colleagues and promote a hostile work environment.

When first approaching a colleague with a suspected mental health condition, it is important to use sensitive language. Language is powerful and choosing the right words when approaching a colleague can mean the difference between treatment and recovery, and precipitating resentment and hostilities.  Referring a colleague to resources and offering support are also key to approaching an individual struggling with mental illness in the workforce. It is important to keep in mind that successfully approaching a colleague with a suspected mental health condition often takes time and multiple conversations. The goal is to build a rapport and a trusting relationship.

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