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How to support your employees during lockdown

With the latest COVID-19 outbreak putting many Australian states into lockdown, it’s more important than ever to support employees who may be showing signs of a mental health condition.

There are signs to look out for and resources available to help you and your colleague tackle these challenges in order to fully understand and support someone close to you who may be struggling with their mental health.

Treat them with respect and dignity 

Treating people living with mental health conditions with respect and dignity can go a long way towards creating healthy and respectful relationships. Being non-judgmental can help break down any stigma or misunderstanding associated with mental health, which is crucial for long-term growth and happiness. 

A good place to start is listening. The most important thing to keep in mind when listening is that you shouldn’t listen to respond; you should be listening to understand. You do this by listening to the content and the feeling, i.e., what you pick up that is not being said. Once you begin to understand how your colleague is feeling, you’ll be better placed to show empathy and offer support.

Ask them if it’s okay to talk about how they are feeling 

Talking about how you feel is a positive step towards improving mental health, but it can take a lot of trust and courage. Despite the prevalence of mental health conditions in Australia, it’s not uncommon for those dealing with mental health conditions to be reluctant to talk about their challenges, especially in a workplace setting.  

Start by asking directly, “is it okay if we talk about how you are feeling?” and then you might follow this with, “if now is not a good time can I check in with you another time?” If they are okay with talking, you might want to start with an open question, “help me understand how this impacts you day to day?”. 

Let your colleague lead the discussion at their own pace and don’t put pressure on them to talk about things they’re not ready to share. It’s also important to let them express themselves without you interrupting. Being sensitive and encouraging in your responses will help make them feel comfortable to open up further. It may also be beneficial to avoid problem-solving mode, which has the right intent but can often shut down the conversation rapidly. 

Offer pathways of support 

Support from family, friends and professionals plays a significant role in the recovery process of someone experiencing mental health issues.

When you are in a place where you understand what your colleague is experiencing, and they feel understood, it is worth having a further discussion about what additional support may be useful to them. Encouraging someone to look after their physical health by eating right, sleeping well, and regularly exercising are always good places to start. Empowering them to seek professional help is also a healthy step forward if they aren’t already. This could be offering to make an appointment with a GP or mental health specialist and ask if they’d like you to go with them. 

Follow through and follow up 

Providing ongoing emotional support and continuity of care can increase the likelihood to recover from a mental health condition. Knowing you are always there for them is crucial in helping them recover.

Admitting that you need support can be one of the hardest steps for a person with a mental health condition, so if offers of support are made, it is important to follow through with whatever action you have stated you would do. 

Once this is done, ask them directly, “do you mind if I check in with you again in a few days?”. This way, you are not applying immediate pressure for them to take action, and you can keep the dialogue open so they understand they are not tackling their challenges alone.

Supporting someone who experiences a mental health condition isn’t easy, and it can affect your own mental health and wellbeing. It’s essential to also look after yourself during this process.

Read more: Understanding mental health

Read more: New mental health services provide support for business owners

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Glenn Baird

Glenn Baird

Glenn Baird is the Head of Mental Health at TAL, Australia’s leading life insurer, where he currently leads TAL’s mental health strategy. Glenn has more than 16 years of experience as a qualified psychotherapist, facilitator and trainer to various mental health stakeholder groups, such as beyondblue and LivingWorks Australia.

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