8 Ways to Recognize and Respond to Behavioral Health Concerns in the Workplace  

Behavioral health conditions affect around 1 in 5 Americans in any given year, yet only 56% of people that face behavioral health challenges receive treatment, according to data provided by Mental Health America. Chances are someone you work with is living with a behavioral condition, whether it’s bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety, it can be hard to identify and even harder to understand how to help someone that is dealing with these struggles.

Depression alone costs U.S. workplaces $23 billion in absenteeism, according to a study by Gallup.

If someone you know has a behavioral health condition and it’s affecting their work performance, Harvard Business Review released a helpful article with advice from Annie McKee, coauthor of Primal Leadership, and coauthor of How Can I Help?, Anna Rainieri. The article highlights eight ways you can address a behavioral health concern in the workplace. Here is what we learned –

1. Don’t Diagnose on a Whim If you are not a properly trained professional, don’t assume that someone has a behavioral health condition. Just because someone is acting different, doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong.

2. Reflect on your Behavior Observe how you and your colleague’s behavior is affected. “You may start to feel down, especially when you’re with the person. Or perhaps you’re usually calm and you find yourself more volatile. We catch the emotional tone of the other person,” says McKee.

3. Don’t Overstep Boundaries Are you the correct person to say something if someone is struggling? If someone’s behavioral health is impacting other employees, it is a manager’s role to initially address the issue. See “Know when to loop in help” for more on how a manager can address a behavioral concern in the workplace.

4. Be Observant The person may not be open to talking about their condition. Rather, look at the impact they’ve been having in the workplace and share an observation. Ranieri gives an example of an observation in the article: “We’ve been trying to get this project done, and it’s been hard with you out of the office.” She then says to “give the person the opportunity to respond and share with you what’s going on. You may learn that they are having a tough time at home, have an elderly parent who’s ill, or they may say, ‘I’m having trouble getting the energy to get to work every day.’”

5. Truly Listen If someone decides to open up to you or another employee, listen. Listening helps absolve the feeling of judgment and end the stigma around behavioral health.

6. Know When to Loop in Help Make sure your employees know they are open to ask for support and advice while still keeping the issue confidential if they are worried about a colleague.  The first key indicator that it’s time to ask for help, is when the “behavior is so unpredictable and frightening that you’re worried they might be putting themselves or others at danger,” says Ranieri. “The second is when you believe talking to the person directly would put you at risk. Perhaps you’re worried about his reaction, or she’s your boss and you worry it will change your relationship.”

7. Necessary Boundaries It’s great to give advice and support, but it’s also important for employees to refer someone they’re concerned about to a professional. If an employee is consistently seeking another employee out for support you can advise them to say something like ‘thanks for relaying this to me, but I’m not an expert. I’m rooting for you but I’m not the person to delve into that,” advises Rainieri. An HR professional, can further support them by letting them know all the resources they have available.

8. A Culture of Caring Last, but not least, make sure you are creating a positive work environment where people feel open to discuss any problems they may be having. McKee emphasizes that it is typical for managers to avoid the topic of behavioral health and emotions, but it shouldn’t be. Maintaining an open conversation with an employee to highlight the impact their behavioral health has had on their work and understand how you can help, is key to making your next step.

Discover strategies for supporting the mental health of your employees. Join us for our next webinar on this important topic.