Worth commiserating

Helping a colleague battling with depression is indeed a challenging task, but is worth taking if you can be compassionate, patient and respectful to their wishes

Worth commiserating

I work in an MNC, and my entire team is working remotely. As a team lead, I have found one of my colleagues to be behaving quite differently than he used to. His productivity is taking a toll, he shows up late for online meetings and appears forlorn. I would like to approach the topic of mental health with him but I am not sure how to do so without overstepping some sensitive boundaries. How can I approach this topic?

Deciding on what to do when you suspect someone in your life having mental health issues can be very difficult. It is even more difficult when the person is a co-worker, as the boundaries between professional and personal realms become thin in such cases. This should, however, not deter you from reaching out.

A survey by the Indian Psychiatric Society revealed that during lockdown 1.0 only, there had been an alarming 20 per cent rise in mental health cases. The crisis has further compounded the situation for those with existing psychological symptoms. Youth and those in productive jobs were particularly affected by the pandemic. When a usually dependable and hardworking colleague begins to miss deadlines, doesn't show up for work, is showing a drastic change in behaviour, it leaves us wondering what is going on? How can we approach them gently without offending? Here are a few helpful guidelines:

Be calm: Your demeanour will help pave the way for conversation. Avoid being anxious and have a friendly one-on-one connection.

Avoid labels: Be mindful of your approach and refrain from using terms like depression. Asking them if they are depressed can likely make them feel judged and be defensive. Try to be open minded to know whether the issues are personal or professional.

Be compassionate: Try and get involved with them in their projects, and open the doors to socialise with them (even if virtually). Sometimes, the thing that helps the most is to have someone to reach out to at work.

✼ Never say "Get on with it. This is life. I have had it worse!" Downplaying someone's concerns, or comparing them to yours, can further trigger mental health issues and worsen the situation. Refrain from preaching and sermonising about how you have faced the worst and yet never been affected. Be supportive rather than confusing them further about their vulnerable state.

Respect their wishes: If your colleague requests you to give

them space, and are not ready to converse, then respect it. Try to revisit the idea later if you would like.

Realise that you can't 'fix' them: Do not go with the intent of being the problem solver, rather, just be a patient listener. It can be tempting to think that your intervention will resolve their issues, but instead, your reach out can be a huge first step but not the end to their troubles.

Mental health awareness seminars at work: Paving way for conversations around mental health via seminars and workshops on mental health can help provide the right guidance and direction from professionals.

EAP: Many companies have employee assistance programmes that many people may not even know about. Those provide assistance and counselling.

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