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Four do’s and don’ts when a coworker confides in you about their mental health

Mental health issues are double-edged. On one side you have the social stigma of being diagnosed with a mental illness, and on the other side you have your own bias towards the diagnosis and treatment. Let`s face it, no one wants to have an illness of any kind least of all one where you may be judged.

Even our own psyches conspire against us on our path to wellness. Often, when people who are diagnosed and treated for their mental illness begin to feel well, they stop taking their meds because they feel like their ‘old-selves’ again. Unfortunately, this is when they slowly but surely descend back into their pre-medicated ways, and the tortuous cycle continues. I have counseled many who have landed themselves in this position and I can tell you it is very arduous work to get them back on their medication.

I think I can safely say we all don’t like to be dependent on any form of medication. If you are one of those people who loath taking even a headache pill, then imagine how hard it is to get someone to take a medication, regularly, for an ailment they are not even convinced they have?

The benefits of exercise and good sleep hygiene are paramount when managing mental health issues, but this is not a blanket prescription to wellness for everyone. Some people are convinced that this is all they need; however, some may need a little more in terms of managing their illness.

So, what are you to do when an employee comes to you and tells you they have a mental illness? In all honesty, there is nothing for you to do per se, in as much as anyone who comes to you with any other illness. However, I believe mental health issues deserve an extra dose of understanding and tact owing to the stigma that is still attached to it. Yes, the rising awareness has aided the efforts in the acceptance of mental health issues, but we are not quite there yet. So your approach needs to be scaled back somewhat. Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider.

Do

1. Thank them for coming to speak to you and trusting you with this information.

2. Let them talk. Let them divulge as much or as little as they are comfortable with.

3. Ask them what you can do for them. How can you aid them in their management of this illness?

4. Help them navigate company policies, insurance benefits, or be a go-between with HR.

Don’t

1. Tell them that this is an issue they may want to take up with HR.

2. Ask questions as to the reasons behind, or projected duration of this ‘illness’.

3. Say you understand. Each person is unique as is their perception and experience of the illness.

4. Treat them with kid gloves. They are the same as any other employee who may have a health issue.

It is my personal opinion that mental health issues, besides their inherent difficulties, are even more maddening than other illnesses. For the sake of argument, how many people do you know who are more than happy to share their frustration, fear, or annoyance towards the diagnosis and treatment of their heart disease or diabetes? These people do not have to look very hard for a sympathetic ear. Family gatherings alone turn into a contest of whose illness is more troublesome or intrusive.

But where do those afflicted with mental illness go to be heard? They do not have the same resources. First, they must convince themselves that they have an illness, that they need to seek treatment, and that perhaps CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) which they sought out and paid for themselves, may not be enough to get them back to a semblance of who they used to be.

Can you even imagine a loved one with cancer having to lurk in the shadows, seek treatment on their own, suffer through chemotherapy treatments, loss of employment, or the emotional, psychological, and physical pain by themselves? Of course not, but a person with a mental health issues does and this has to stop.

You can do your part to help turn it around. It is my hope that one day our mentally ill can also stand around at family gatherings and exchange their frustrations and horror stories just like uncle Bob when he recites the disgusting details of his latest colonoscopy!

Heidi Crux is the author of Public Speaking Simplified and Demystified. Communication Basics to Create Lasting Impressions. Heidi is a graduate of Dale Carnegie Training with over 25 years of experience both in and out of the boardroom teaching communication basics and management principles at the university level. As a trainer and coach Heidi conducts seminars and workshops upon request as well as public speaking engagements.

This column was originally published on Fairygodboss.com.

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