How to Support a Colleague Through a Mental Breakdown at Work? Find Mental Health Clinics Near You.

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A healthy, optimally functioning individual is an asset to any organization. A mentally healthy individual is aware of his/her abilities, can work productively, can cope with regular life stressors, and can contribute to the community. Mental health is extremely important for individuals to think, make decisions, and be productive at work. A WHO-led study estimated that mental health disorders such as Anxiety or Depression cost almost USD 1 trillion each year due to lost productivity. This figure surely emphasizes the importance of mental health support at workplaces.

This leads us to think what does healthy and mentally healthy means exactly? The WHO constitution states: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." A very important aspect of this statement implies that mental health is more than a mere absence of any mental health disorder and/or disability.

In the previous era all of us were influenced with the idea that work and personal life have to be separated by a thick line. No matter what happens in your personal life, work should not get affected. However, we often ignored the fact that we are a same human being living a personal as well as professional life and it’s not always possible to display unaffected behavior when you are facing difficulties in the other part of your life. It may not only be personal life but many time nature and load of work itself can be a cause of stress, anxiety or depression. It can also lead to more challenging situations such as trauma or in some cases mood disorders. The cause of the breakdown can range from breakup to death of pet, from stress at work to losing money. The end result is same, i.e. affected mental health.

Of course, the organization can implement many policies and provide with the support system. But we need to agree on the fact that each one of us is an integral part of building supportive environment for our co-workers and ourselves. While we build that, it’s important to understand the signs if your colleague needs support.

  • You see that he/she is constantly fearful
  • Recently she/he have started displaying low self esteem
  • You can see mood swings happening frequently
  • he/she is constantly irritable or has anger outbursts
  • They talk of feeling helpless, hopeless and worthless
  • Physical complains or concerns are increased
  • You see them uninterested in almost everything, even in the things they used to enjoy earlier
  • You see drastic change in their appetite
  • They mention not having sufficient energy or sleep
  • Unable to control crying
  • You see them demotivated
  • she/ he is absent frequently
  • Withdrawing from social situations and communications
  • Talk of having thoughts or plans of harming oneself or attempting suicide

Having identified some of these signs, it’s important to provide your co-worker with mental first aid.
  1. Be gentle: asking your co-worker about how they are doing in a warm and authentic way can assure them you are there to support them.
  2. Give them time and space: Before you get into a conversation, remember it can be a sensitive issue and hence you may need to give time to your colleague to feel comfortable. Do not rush. Create a safe environment and assure that it’s a safe space where they can talk about what he/she is going through.
  3. Listen: listening is a skill. Allow them to speak while you be open and actively listen to each detail of what they say. Reflect it back to them by nodding or rephrasing what they said to assure them that you are trying to understand what they mean. Do not hesitate to ask them to explain it. It’s better than having your own interpretations.
  4. Be empathetic: Put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand what might they be experiencing. Reflect it to them. This helps them feel understood and comfortable with you. Understand that each one of us can experience a different range of emotions in the same situation and that’s alright. Your colleague is a unique person, hence may experience different emotions.
  5. Be insightful: listening to others’ concerns evokes emotions in us too. Be insightful of what you experience and try to manage it for yourself, don’t reflect that to your co-worker while listening.
  6. Reactions and opinions: a big “NO” to your personal reactions and opinions. As we said those are very subjective so don’t give them outright openly while you help your colleague to be comfortable and content. Your colleague needs to be listened to and understood first. Remember you are helping them and that your emotional reactions might not help them.
  7. Offer to help more: sometimes the issues can be intense and your colleague may need more support. You can be their first listener but not their therapist. Be aware of the signs. In case they mention extreme thoughts and feelings, suicide, for example, understand that your colleague may need medical attention. Offer them help to find a good Psychiatrist and Therapist/ Counsellor, accompany them for the visit, if they are staying alone, connect with their family and friends and take them on board.

Most of the time an individual requires someone to provide them with the space where they can talk without being judged. You can hold that space for your colleagues. That should help them to overcome the most difficult stage of the battle that is seeking help!
Mpower, one of the best mental health organizations provides mental health services in various cities in India like Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. To avail mental health service, find a mental health clinic closest to you.

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Mrudula Joshi
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