If you’ve discovered that a colleague is suffering from depression and you’ve never had the charm of the illness yourself, it can be all kinds of difficult to try and figure out how to work with them, let alone how to manage them.
Luckily for you, I’ve already talked about working with someone struggling with depression, and trying to differentiate between general lack of motivation and actual mental health issues, so for the sake of this piece I’m going to assume that you’re absolutely firm in the knowledge that the colleague you have in mind has depression, and isn’t just taking the piss.
Managing somebody is entirely different to working alongside them, though.
Decent managers will already have figured out how each member of their team works and what kind of communication they respond to best, and – shock twist – this doesn’t need to change if you’re managing an employee who has depression.
Like you would with anyone working underneath you, it’s important to keep an open line of conversation and to assure them that they can come to you with any struggles and be fully supported.
As a depressed person (tick!) with managerial experience (tick!) who has been managed by a lot of people (tick!), I would personally advise on not providing any ‘special treatment’ outside of your usual support – you don’t need to let your standards drop, you just need to understand what might come along that could impact your colleague’s ability to work to their best, and to support them if or when it happens.
Your job is to manage their workload, so don’t be scared of asking questions along the lines of what they need from you to help them with X,Y or Z.
1 in 4 of us in the UK are struggling with mental health, so if you’re a manager then chances are you absolutely manage people who are having a tough time.
Liam is one such manager, and agrees that the best approach is simply to be supportive: ‘For me as a manager, I don’t think there is anything different that I do when managing people who have a mental health illness. To manage anyone you need to understand how they work; preferences, strengths and weaknesses,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘The difference with people with any health issues is that there are more complexities, so building trust and openness is maybe more important. If you have that, then people will be open with you and come to you when they need support.
‘You need to understand that trusting someone can be more difficult for people who experience mental health illnesses.’
Liam has pretty much hit the nail on the head there – it’s difficult to tell people you love about your mental health struggles because there’s still such an unhelpful stigma attached, so telling your manager can seem terrifyingly intimidating.
A lot of companies use organisations such as Sanctus to help open up conversations about mental health at work, and allow employees to find support from someone who’s qualified to provide it.
I would strongly advise introducing an initiative like this to remove stigma, to support your colleagues and to support yourself, too – assuming you’re not a qualified therapist or doctor.
Hannah*’s workplace took a similarly supportive approach when she told her manager about her mental health struggles. ‘When I first started working I was suffering from major depression,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It was hard to talk to anyone about it, let alone to my manager at the time. However, it got to a point where I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning and I was running out of excuses.
‘In the end, I confided in her, and as we cried together we sorted out a plan where I worked from home a few days a week. My employer ended up paying for my therapy sessions and rolled out a mental health wellness scheme of the back of it. I was very lucky, not every place is like that.’
It’s not as easy as just ‘rolling out a mental health scheme’ if you’re not a super senior member of your company, of course, but it’s definitely worth raising with your own boss and with HR. Mental health issues aren’t going anywhere, and the more supportive and open we can all be about them, the better.
Melody is managed by Liam (that nice chap quoted above), and feels understood and supported by his awareness of her mental health struggles and his willingness to step in when he can see she needs some help.
‘I find that knowing he understands, and is watching for signs that I am struggling is a weight off my shoulders,’ she tells us.
‘Although I still keep tabs on my mental state and have coping mechanisms for when I am struggling, knowing that he is aware and knows what to look for is a real support.
‘When I’m in meetings or conversations and I can’t cope, he finds a way to step in and provide me with an avenue for escape.’
This is excellent from Liam (well done, Liam), but crucially, Melody says that he doesn’t go easier on her compared to her colleagues, and still expects high quality results from her work.
This is so important – we don’t want to feel like special cases, mental health problems are not anything strange – we want to be understood but not made to feel like a child.
‘Liam doesn’t just give me space and room regardless,’ says Melody, ‘he still expects me to deliver and to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
‘His standards are no lower because of my struggles, he’s just understanding of how they impact me and allows me to take them into account when discussing what objectives or challenges I am going to take on.’
The more we can all talk about mental health, the easier it will be for those struggling with it to come forward and seek help and support.
There’s no need to be scared of someone with depression – it’s not contagious like the chicken pox. Be brave and start talking about it, that’s really the best thing you can do to gain understanding and to support the people around you.
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