Yesterday was International Mental Health Day, sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This year the focus is on psychological first aid, WHO points out that in times of crisis it’s not just physical help that will be needed but also psychological support. I think they’re thinking of people working in the field and addressing the immediate aftermath of a crisis, however we will see people who have encountered crisis in the workplace, we need to learn some of the same skills.
I’ve worked with people who have been dealing with some personal crisis, suffering from “burnout” or who have diagnosed mental illness. I’ve come up with some “rules of engagement” that work for myself.
- ask for clarification, but don’t ask for more than the person is willing to share.
- comfort in; dump out (within the bounds of confidentiality)
- keep contact even if the person is struggling
- allow person space for their own thoughts
- bring the person’s attention back to work
- be aware of my own limits and don’t be afraid to set boundaries for my own self care (this is hard as it feels selfish)
This is a pretty close match to the UN’s own guidelines, which validated my instincts.
How does this play out?
When you’re a manager and someone in your team is suffering from burnout you have to listen to them. You don’t explain or justify it. You believe them.
When a colleague who has mental health issues confesses to a history of abuse, you don’t tell anyone else – even if it becomes apparent that other people also know.
When a New Arrival in your country starts working with you don’t introduce him to everyone as a refugee – that’s just an immigration label and it invites the question “how did you get here?” Introduce someone by their name and the role they’ll perform. Let him/her talk about how they got here when they’re ready. Which may be never.
There are thousands of new arrivals who will become our colleagues, there are people who already have PTSD, sufferers of depression and other mental illnesses. We may all need psychological support through tough periods in our own lives.
Take the time to think about how you can help, think about how you would lead your team in supporting someone who was struggling. If you see someone struggling, reach out, invite them for coffee and a chat… and keep the invitation open if they’re not ready right now.