Co-worker mental health: How to save a life

co-worker mental health

With one in five working people in Australia experiencing a mental health condition[1], it is highly likely that you have worked, or are working, with someone with depression, anxiety or other disorder, perhaps even without knowing it. Addressing co-worker mental health is a key ingredient to maintaining mentally healthy workplaces

During the working week (whatever that entails nowadays), people can often spend more time with co-workers than they do with family and friends.

Co-workers are in a unique position to facilitate mentally healthy workplaces because of the consistent and significant contact they have with fellow workers that may be suffering from a mental illness.

But how do co-workers identify when someone they work with may be experiencing issues with mental illness?

If you have worked with someone for any period, you become aware of the way they usually behave, the type of person they are, and how they generally respond to certain situations. I am not suggesting here that you necessarily judge a book by its cover, but mostly that it is usually an opportunity to get to know them because you spend so much time with them.

Paying attention to any changes in the behaviour of your co-worker can, therefore, be an effective way of identifying whether they potentially have a mental illness.

Here are some examples of changes in behaviour to look out for that might indicate your co-worker is suffering from a mental health condition and needs your support:

  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions;
  • late to work, often absent from work, afternoon fatigue or accidents;
  • unsure of abilities, lack of confidence;
  • low motivation, detached;
  • decreased or inconsistent productivity;
  • making more errors in work and missing deadlines;
  • social withdrawal – for example, not attending social events they would typically have enjoyed;
  • declining interest in work and those around them;
  • always tired and run-down;
  • saying things like “I’m a failure” or “It’s my fault.”
  • withdrawal from the work team – increasing tendency towards self-isolation;
  • indifference;
  • preference for putting things off or seeking to avoid dealing with common workplace issues;
  • seems “scattered” or absent-minded;
  • procrastination, indecisiveness;
  • inappropriate reactions, the emergence of strained relationships; or
  • change in appearance (usually a deterioration in the standard in which they usually present themselves).

Periods of low mood or difficulty are typical for all of us; however, these feelings usually pass for most people.[2] The difference between a low mood and depression, for example, is observed when an individual’s feelings consistently interfere with their daily life over a minimum period of two weeks.[3] If you notice a co-worker exhibiting any of these symptoms beyond this period, it may be time to have a conservation with them about it or, at least, take steps to ensure they receive adequate support.

Your actions could save their life.

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© 2020. Robert Nicholls. All Rights Reserved.

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[1] TNS Social Research (2014). State of workplace mental health in Australia. Beyondblue and TNS Social Research.

[2] Munro, M. and Milne, R. (2020). Symptoms and causes of depression, and its diagnosis and management. Nursing Times [online], vol. 116, no. 4, pp. 18-22. Retrieved on 9 April 2020 from

[3] Norman, I. and Ryrie. I. (2018). The art and science of mental health nursing: Principles and practice. London: Open University Press. 

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