Your Mind At Work//

How to Talk to a Colleague About Their Mental Health

This is why mental health literacy is vital.

How can we support our friends and colleagues who encounter mental health challenges? I sat down with Deborah Miscoll, Psy.D., a psychologist and Managing Director at Deloitte to talk about mental health in the workplace. In this conversation, we discussed ways to reach out to those who may be struggling with a mental health condition.

Jen Fisher: How do you know if someone is struggling with a mental health challenge?

Deborah Miscoll: First, don’t automatically assume that it’s something serious. If someone overreacts to what seems like a common workday stressor, they might just be having a bad day, and that’s ok. People can get upset, even tearful, in life and at work; expressing emotions doesn’t mean someone is in crisis. It might be something like, “I just found out my dog died.” Or it might be something more complex.

It’s super important to understand there’s a spectrum from positive mental health to really concerning behaviors. This is why mental health literacy is vital. We are better equipped to support others if we understand common signs of distress, and if they are within the normal range or signal something more serious. The more we build awareness about mental health, the more people will understand how it presents and how people can support their colleagues who need it — what to do and what not to do.

JF: How do you know when to intervene, or how far to go? How do you learn “what to do and not do”?

DM: One of the goals of mental health education is to help each of us build a “first-aid” kit. The first tool in the kit is compassion. If you saw someone trip down the stairs, you’d go to them on the landing and ask, “Are you alright? Do you need any help?” Let the same instinct kick in if you walk into the bathroom and find someone in tears. Don’t tiptoe around. Engage with that person: “Is there anything I can do for you?” They might just need a glass of water and a box of Kleenex. Or they might need more support. Be empathetic, listen, and offer help without judgment. If you feel it’s appropriate, you might say, “Have you considered talking to a mental health clinician about this?” When it comes to something serious, don’t try to handle it on your own, try to connect them to the right people and resources in your organization or in the community to get them the help they need.

JF: What if someone approaches you and says they’re struggling with a mental health challenge?

DM: First, recognize that they’ve put themselves in a vulnerable position by sharing that information with you — it’s a big step, so honor their vulnerability. Acknowledge what they’ve said, without judgment. You might want to seek to better understand their struggle by listening to them describe their experience and how their life and work is being impacted.

Give them hope — there is support and treatment options out there. Offer them fact-based information, direct them to credible assistance, like a licensed mental health professional. But don’t overextend yourself. Help them get to the right resources and be transparent about your boundaries and limits. Your mental and emotional well-being is important too.

JF: So basically, “If you see something, say something”?

DM: Yes. We’ve got to reframe our social barriers: Give yourself permission to get involved with kindness and support rather than just looking the other way. If a friend or colleague is having a tough time, let them know you care. Problems usually start out as a slow simmer. If we notice them at that stage and help the person seek appropriate support and intervention, we lay the foundation for a better outcome for everyone.

JF: How can someone continue to provide support after the initial conversation? Or should they?

DM: It depends. You don’t need to feel obligated to stay involved, but if you’ve formed a bond through this, and you’re investing in the relationship on your own terms, then absolutely. Follow up, do a quick check-in, and if the person doesn’t want to continue to connect with you, you’ll know. But honestly, most people are thankful that someone else cares. Never underestimate the power of genuine connection.

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