Things you can do if you suspect your team member is mentally struggling

It’s mental awareness month, and educating people about mental health is essential as more and more people are affected. When people around us are experiencing mental health issues, we need to know how to respond.

Let’s first look at the statistics. The number of people suffering from and seeking support for mental health issues is increasing. Forbes referenced an article in The Lancet stating that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of depressive symptoms grew from a base of about 193 million people to 246 million worldwide, which is about 28%. Anxiety disorders grew from about 298 million people affected to 374 million, which is about a 25% increase.

Now, more than ever, we need to stay connected with the people in our teams. How are they really doing?

If you are worried about someone in your team because of how they show up at work or you’re concerned about their change in behaviour, this may be an opportunity to offer some extra support.

Signs that indicate people could be struggling mentally.

There are some common signs that could indicate that someone in your team is possibly experiencing problems with their mental well-being. People could show one or a combination of these signs:

  • They look tired and stressed.
  • They have problems focusing or making decisions.
  • They avoid social contacts.
  • They come in late or leave early.
  • They are being easily upset or unusually emotional.
  • They work longer hours than usual or try to do too many things at once.
  • They don’t take care of personal appearance or leave their working space untidy/unclean (if this is unusual or out of character).
  • They have lost confidence or feel overwhelmed by tasks.

Notice their differences in behaviour. Some people can try to cover the signs that they’re struggling, but you may intuitively feel that something’s not right. There could be no obvious reason why, or you may be aware they are going through a difficult or stressful life event such as bereavement, relationship breakup, or money worries.

Start a conversation

Make time to have a chat with them. Ensure you choose the right moment and find a quiet place to make the person feel more comfortable. Start with: “How are you doing?” or “How are things going?” They may not open up immediately and just say, “All right.”

Share your observations and ask them open-ended questions (that cannot be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’). It’s sometimes hard for people to talk about their mental issues and how they are affected by them. It can feel very vulnerable and emotional.

Stay open and caring and listen attentively without judgment. Don’t worry about not having the answers, but creating the space for people to talk can already be a huge help. You could offer help to find ways to support them. Let them know that you are there for them and follow up a week or two later.

If they have not been feeling well for over a couple of weeks, encourage them to talk to a healthcare professional or a GP. Focus on the benefits of seeing someone as it can be difficult for your team member to take the first step to get help.

You may feel worried that there’s nothing you can do. However, it’s important to acknowledge that there will be limits to the help you can offer. Showing compassion and care is the most important thing. Stay connected, drop them a text, or arrange a time to chat or go for a walk together. Let them know you’re there for them.

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Liesbeth van der Linden is an executive coach, author, speaker, and authority on Leadership issues. Her upcoming book, Connect, Inspire, Grow – The Executive Framework for the First 100 Days, is a guide for senior leaders in global companies who step into a new role and helps them build the trust that’s required to make the changes necessary to create success.

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