I want to support a friend at work

Since we presented the results of the Mentally Healthy 18 study, the awareness of the challenges regarding mental health in our industry has been steadily increasing. More and more stories have been written in trade press as well as being shared through initiatives like the Heart On My Sleeve Story Book.

While many people are finding the courage to speak up about what they have been (or are) going through, many more may be battling the symptoms of mental ill-health in silence. They may be afraid of the damage it could do to their reputation and career opportunities. Of course, this is something that we’re hoping to reduce, but while many of us will say we’re more than happy to work with people who may be suffering, it doesn’t mean we’ll speak up ourselves.

So, how do you know if someone may have a mental health issue – or if they’re just having a bad day? Betterhealth (by the Victorian Government) states that the early signs of a problem can be a combination of the following:

  • turning up late to work
  • looking tired and seeming stressed
  • having trouble concentrating, making decisions and managing multiple tasks
  • being unusually emotional and getting frustrated with people
  • avoiding social activities
  • sitting alone at lunchtime
  • unable to accept negative feedback
  • drinking more alcohol than normal
  • taking extra leave
  • avoiding certain workplace activities such as staff meetings
  • getting overwhelmed or easily upset
  • becoming aggressive and threatening others
  • taking illegal drugs.

Of course, in an industry with a high-demand for results and game-changing ideas some of these are reasonable responses to the demand of the job. But if you see significant changes in these behaviours and symptoms lasting for longer than 2 weeks, chances are you’ll be right to be concerned.

The 2 guides below are a great start in looking at how to spot the signs and have that first conversation.

Talking to someone you are worried about

Beyond Blue’s practical guide to ask, listen to and support a colleague or friend that you might be worried about.

Supporting someone with anxiety

This article includes stories by people with lived experience and shares how they feel when people approach them trying to help.

The other important thing to remember here is that you’re just trying to be a friend. You’re not an instant expert or psychologist, you’re just reaching out because you care. The best friends listen. If you can listen non-judgementally you’ll go a long way to helping your friend or colleague feel validated.

In this video, 5 people with experience of mental health problems share their tips on how to help.

“Look out for changes in mood, withdrawal from social situations and sick days”

Looking after yourself

Before you talk to your friend it’s a good idea to make sure you have details and resources on hand that you can share. Many of these are mentioned in the resources above. However, one of the most important first steps is to encourage your friend to visit their GP.  A GP can properly assess your friend and make arrangements (if appropriate) to create a mental health treatment plan.

Headspace have outlined what may be included in the plan and what rebates (under Medicare) may be applicable.

  • one-on-one sessions with a psychologist
  • group psychologist sessions
  • sessions with a social worker or another allied health practitioner.

With a mental health care plan, the Medicare rebate covers your friend for a certain amount of the value of their session – ($124.50 for 50+ minutes with a clinical psychologist). If the psychologist charges more, they’ll need to pay the difference – the “gap”.

Another important factor to consider in your support is to keep your friend’s information private. As with any private matter you shouldn’t disclose any information that they’ve confided in you without their consent. Of course, you may share concerns with a manager or HR representative, and there may be cases where more extreme concerns may need immediate action, such as the potential of suicide.

Of course, at this stage, the seriousness of the conversation has taken on extremely uncomfortable characteristics. But, remember if this is truly someone you care about, awkwardness is a minor concern. Many experts and mental health workers agree that a direct conversation is the best course of action in such a scenario. If you find yourself in this situation, this guide by Ahead For Business can help.

“Don’t judge. You have no idea what someone’s going through. Try giving them the benefit of the doubt.”
“Look out for your workmates. They might think they’re in the zone – but working late nights and weekends is going to take its toll.”

More Resources

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