Guidance for starting a conversation with a colleague who is struggling [Mental Health]

Stress can come from every facet of our lives, but when we spend most of our time at work, it is not unusual for its effects to manifest inside the office walls.

If you have identified a colleague who may need someone to talk to, this Mental Health Series article, informed by the Blackdog Institute, will help you start a conversation with them, so they know it is ok to seek the support they need.

As we approach the end of the year and the demands of the last six-to-12 months catch up to us, it’s not unusual to see colleagues show signs of stress and exhaustion, or perhaps, more serious symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In real estate particularly, this year has been a tough one. While the market fluctuated and we have seen improvements in the latter half of the year, the first half was a true test, with lower property values, fewer listings and less completions.

As agents, these conditions can affect you both financially and emotionally. When added to the other stresses of everyday life — family, friends, health, running households — and the pending flurry of expensive Christmas activity, it’s really not uncommon to feel like it’s all just a bit too much.

And if you’re not feeling it, if you’re coping fine, you can be sure that someone else around you is feeling the pressure and isn’t quite doing ok.

If you spot someone like that in your office, it is not your job to council them through crisis or bring them back from the depths of despair — and frankly, that pressure is not something you need!

What you can do, however, is start a conversation with them that lets them know you have seen them and you have noticed their struggle, they are not doing it alone, and there is no shame in getting a little extra support to get through a tough time.

So, how can you start a conversation like this without causing offence or extra anxiety?

  1. Check in regularly

Blackdog Institute recommends paving the way for conversation about mental health by checking in regularly with colleagues. This just means making it a normal part of your interaction to ask about their weekend or plans, talk about a favourite TV show or suggest a great place to eat.

These casual interactions can improve connections and make it more likely for a colleague to be more comfortable seeking out someone to talk with about any extra stress or anxiety they may be experiencing.

  1. Choose an appropriate time or place to talk

If you do want to raise something a little more personal, like the fact you are concerned, finding the right place and time to do so is important.

Make sure you are in a space that allows privacy as most people don’t like to discuss issues such as these in front of others, and select a time that isn’t going to add to stress. For example, avoid times when they are working to an important deadline or running out the door to pick up the kids.

  1. Let them know why you’re concerned

Blackdog suggests beginning the conversation by telling the other person you have noticed some changes in them and what those changes are. This should be in a way that doesn’t seem aggressive or accusing, but understanding and open.

You can then use it as a way to ask them if there is anything they want to talk about, but understand, they may not feel comfortable talking right now.

  1. Really show you are listening

In most situations where we encounter a friend or colleague with a problem, our first impulse is to dive in with a way they can solve it. But solving the problem isn’t always what the other person needs straight away, often, they just need someone to talk to first — someone who will really listen.

Be careful to really and genuinely listen, not to simply wait for your turn to talk so you can dive in and solve their problem.

  1. Do they need some extra help

As noted, becoming a crutch for this person or solving all of their problems isn’t your job — by trying to take that on, especially as someone not qualified to do so, you are ultimately just creating more stress and pressure for yourself.

You don’t want to put yourself in a situation within which you feel responsible solely for the wellbeing of this other person.

There are professionals who can be this ongoing support.

As part of your conversation, gently work out if your colleague is ready to seek out some further help and support — if they are willing to talk with a helpline, counsellor or doctor, depending on the situation.

If they are ready, the idea of finding someone to talk to might be part of the problem — it can be quite stressful trying to track down support. You can help make this easier by directing them to some great services that will either provide the support they need, or refer them to a local specialist.

  1. Follow up is really important

While, by having that initial conversation, you have done something really helpful, it’s important you don’t see this as a one-step process. Now you’ve broken the ice, you understand the person is having a tough time and does want some support, you need to just check in again after a few days to make sure they have followed up and at least found a pathway to the support they need.

Though you don’t have to expect that they will keep sharing their personal situation with you once they have found external support, it can still be really helpful to check in regularly just to see how they are going.

It’s not uncommon for people to find support and then discontinue it because they are busy or the first person they talk to isn’t the right person for them. Just make sure they are still doing ok and they have what they need.

Finding support

If someone in your real estate team is having a tough time or may be struggling with a mental illness, there is so much support available.

If you want to help a colleague find some support, you can start with these three great services:

  1. Blackdog Institute for great resources

  1. Lifeline — for crisis support

  • Call 13 11 14
  1. Beyond Blue

  • Support with depression and anxiety
  • Online chat
  • Call: 1300 22 4636

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