ACT: How to Help a Friend or Colleague in Need

Brought to you by Naluri, an organization providing professional health & life coaching services, and focused on improving the mental & physical health of individuals through the use of behavioural science, data science, & digital design.

The current pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives, from personal to professional. We are experiencing change that is centered around loss – loss of physical connectedness, loss of routine, loss of future plans, and loss of freedom. While none of these losses involve death, the term grief might not come to mind naturally. However, many of us may currently be living in a chronic state of mild grief as we cope with these unprecedented changes. 

Importantly, science has shown that while the way we experience grief may differ, social support is one of the most effective stress-buffering methods during temporary periods of grief.

At a time like this, many of our colleagues may be experiencing difficulty with their mental health – it could be feelings of isolation, worthlessness, insecurities, or fear of being judged if they were to open up. Many of us may want to support each other in having these conversations, but may be insufficiently skilled to do so. 

We hope to show you that being there for your colleague in dealing with mental health issues doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as simple as:

  1. Ask them if they’re okay
  2. Console them
  3. Take action if professional help is required.

ASK THEM IF THEY ARE OKAY 

Before we can look out for others, we need to look out for ourselves. Here’s a simple checklist to assess our readiness and preparedness to have a meaningful conversation with our colleagues. 

Am I Ready? – Am I in a good headspace? Am I willing to genuinely listen? Can I give as much time as needed? 

Am I Prepared? – Do I understand that if I ask if someone is okay, the answer could be: “No, I’m not”? Do I understand that I can’t ‘fix’ someone’s problems? Do I accept that they might not be ready to talk? Or they might not want to talk to me?  

Have I Picked My Moment? – Have I chosen somewhere relatively private and comfy? Have I figured out a time that will be good for them to chat? Have I made sure I have enough time to chat properly?

When choosing to discuss with your colleague:

  • Find a quiet place.
  • Be relaxed, friendly, and concerned in your approach. 
  • Use positive body language.
  • Help them open up by asking questions like, “How are you doing?” or “What’s been happening?”  
  • Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like “You seem less chatty than usual. How are you doing?”
  • Remember each conversation is different, as each individual and their situation is different.

CONSOLE THEM

Listening is one of the most effective tools to aid a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. Most people experiencing distressing emotions and thoughts want to be heard before being offered helpful options and resources.

Remember that our experience is unlikely to be the same as our colleagues’, and therefore solutions that worked for us might not necessarily work for them. It is important to apply reflective listening to understand what they are saying/ how they are feeling and staying with them as they describe their experience instead of providing solutions that have worked for us.

There are 2 key skills involved in reflective listening:

Attending Skills – give your physical and psychological attention to the person. Effective attending conveys non-verbally that you are interested and are paying careful attention. 

Reflecting Skills– express essence of the content, feelings you hear, and summarize larger segments of what is said. 

Affirmations

Affirmations are statements and gestures that recognize your colleague’s strengths and acknowledge behaviors that lead in the direction of positive change, no matter how big or small. Affirming them will acknowledge and support your colleague’s struggles, which will lead to building confidence in their ability to change.

TAKE ACTION

The most effective type of action/ intervention often requires careful consideration of the situation and individual readiness. You can encourage your colleagues to adopt self-help techniques to improve their mental well-being. In the event that your colleague shows resistance to help, it is important to not confuse it with losing hope. If they are ready to seek help, encourage them to speak to a mental health professional.

Self-Help

Ask:

  • What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?
  • How would you like me to support you?
  • What’s something you can do for yourself right now? Something that’s enjoyable or relaxing?

Escalate to a Professional

If your colleague has been experiencing symptoms (social withdrawal, decreased performance, dramatic mood swings or changes in sleep patterns and appetite, lack of concentration, etc.) for more than 2 weeks, encourage them to see a health professional, as it may become a medical condition.

There are many different types of therapy that have their own benefits.

With traditional face-to-face therapy, you and the practitioner can have a real-time conversation in their office, where they can pick up on your body language and tone of voice, which can give them insights on what you’re feeling. 

With online therapy, you can start a session or communicate with a therapist anytime and anywhere if you have an internet connection. Some might open up more with online therapy because they feel more comfortable and at ease in their own homes.

You can also choose to meet with a clinical psychologist or a counselor. A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional with a minimum of a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and is able to diagnose and treat mental disorders and conduct relevant psychological assessments.

A counselor, on the other hand, has at least undergone a Bachelor’s level education in counseling, and while they do not provide a diagnosis of a mental health condition, they can provide therapy to improve the situation.

While there are similarities and differences in what different mental health professionals are able to do, it is most important that you make positive progress towards your goals when seeking help! Many individuals also find that they work best with a therapist they feel comfortable with, trust, and view as non-judgmental.

The original article, written by Dr. Tiffanie Ong, can be found here.