How to Have a Conversation with a Colleague
Friends can help get friends into important and effective care.
Often friends or colleagues are the first, and sometimes the only, ones to notice when someone is experiencing a mental health disorder.
It may be among the toughest conversations you ever initiate. But when you think a colleague is in trouble it is worse, for both you and your friend to avoid the issue.
The legal profession has more than three times the rate of depression than other occupations. Its effects include impaired productivity, the loss of qualified people, long-term disability and even suicide. It is in everyone’s best interest to address the problem constructively so that the person gets help and can continue to function effectively.
Generally depressed people feel lost and hopeless. These practical steps help chip away at their sense of helplessness and isolation.
Educate yourself before talking with your colleague. Learn the signs. The most common include a lack of ability to feel pleasure, absence of motivation and interest, inability to complete work and persistent sadness that fails to resolve.
Take up the conversation away from the workplace. Invite your colleague out for lunch or dinner, so they know that the topic is not about work, but something more personal.
Don’t tell someone to just “snap out of it,” or to “take a vacation,” neither of these are helpful. If they could snap out of it, they would, and if they took a vacation, they would just be depressed on vacation.
Suggest they seek help, but a non-threatening way is to recommend they see their regular doctor (not a psychiatrist), to rule out physical issues.
Have the conversation with your colleague one-on-one. If you have the discussion with them with two or more people, they may feel ganged up on and are likely to become defensive.
Offer concrete help. A depressed person is often isolated and lacking in energy and motivation. Instead of telling them to call you whenever they need to talk, you might want to suggest a specific time to get together. Or if you suggest counseling or a support group, offer to drive them there and back. This shows them that your concern is much more than superficial.
Don’t revert to the lawyer mode of talking rather than listening. Typically lawyers don’t listen as well as they talk. On this occasion, you need to really hear what your friend is saying.
Give them a choice. Ultimately, getting help is their responsibility. What you could say, is ‘I encourage you to get help now, but it is your choice. Just know that doing nothing is not going to help the situation improve and the longer you wait, the higher the risk is of losing your job.
Check into workplace accommodations. “If the person cannot take time off but is focused on healing, see what can be done to give them the space they need. For example, temporarily ask for more flexible hours, a shorter workweek or a different caseload.
For Individual Therapy Orange County please contact Nancy Caltagirone, LMFT at (714) 241-8400