Mental health month: Check in with your teammates

Pexels Alexander Suhorucov 6457579

The COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns has had a major impact on people’s mental health and cast a brighter light on awareness and the need for greater support.

While discussions around mental health and wellbeing are always important and necessary, sometimes it can feel hard to put our thoughts and concerns into action. But every workplace should have a culture that makes everyone feel safe, supported, and encouraged.

Here are a few ways to have those meaningful conversations with the people you work with.

Be cool, calm, and casual

Reaching out and checking in with teammates doesn’t need to feel daunting or super serious, especially if you don’t know the person well. The intention is really to offer support and care, not to ‘save’ people.

If it helps, shift your mindset away from, “I need to help this person fix their struggles” and instead look at it more as a conversation – you’re providing a safe space for someone to open up if they need to.

Keeping it cool and casual can help alleviate the pressure around having this “big chat” and allow the conversation to flow naturally.

Be open about your own experiences

There’s one thing I’ve found helpful when trying to encourage people to open up, and that is to be open and honest about my own experiences.

As a society, we’ve been conditioned to auto-respond to, “How are you doing?” with “OK” and “good,” even when that’s not the case. Which is why now, I answer honestly every time someone asks how I am. For example, I’ll say, “I’m actually struggling a bit this week. I think my motivation is down because of it.”

I find these simple and honest responses can demonstrate that it’s easy to open up without it needing to be a big, heavy conversation. We can normalise authentic check-ins in the workplace, so when a bigger chat is needed, it doesn’t feel daunting or unprofessional.

Be prepared

If someone does open up, you don’t need to have all the answers (or any). But you do need to be prepared.

Often, people will benefit from a safe space where they are heard and understood. Where they can talk freely about their experiences without interruption, judgement, or advice.

Being present and connecting with teammates can be one of the best things you can do. But it requires you to be in the right headspace where you have the time and willingness to listen. That includes being comfortable with emotions and silence.

There are plenty of online resources available to help. Check out RU OK’s website for free guides you can refer to for guidance on how to best prepare for a meaningful conversation, as well as resources and tips you can share with your colleagues to encourage further action.

Remember, you’re not the mental health expert who has all the answers, but you can lead colleagues and friends to those who are.

Keep showing up

We all need to get better at removing the negative stigma around mental health and letting people know that it’s totally normal and okay to struggle and talk about those struggles. That message must come from the top but be actively supported on the ground.

Be mindful that people may not always feel like talking and they may not feel like talking to you. That’s okay, too. Because being with someone and showing that you are there for them when they are ready is equally important. And if they do open up to you, stay connected and check in again in a few days’ time to see how they’re doing.

We can all get to a point where we’re so far into the tunnel that there is no light. And so, having someone to walk with you and help you move forward so you can see the glimmer at the end is sometimes all we need.