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Mental Health in the Workplace: How to Help a Colleague in Need

Colleen Wischnewski

While the construction industry is synonymous with rugged determination and unparalleled craftsmanship it’s important to remember that the men and women who build our world are not immune to the trials of life. In fact, the construction industry has one of the highest rates of suicide of any industry in the United States. As we shine a spotlight on suicide prevention, it’s crucial to understand the unique dynamics within the construction industry and equip ourselves with the tools to support our colleagues during their times of need. Read on to learn how to foster mental wellbeing and provide a lifeline to those in need.

The Power of Presence and Listening

In a world where words often fail to capture the depth of human emotions, remember this: your presence and willingness to listen can be more powerful than you realize. If your co-worker’s words make you uncomfortable, remind yourself that your ability to be there for them, to lend an ear, and to offer support can be a lifeline they desperately need. If you sense that a colleague is struggling, giving them an opportunity to express what’s weighing on their mind can alleviate a significant burden.

Being a Good Listener

During this crucial moment, your role is that of a good listener. You might not have all the answers, but your attentive and empathetic approach will lay the foundation for a more robust plan of action down the road. Engage in an open and honest discussion about what you’ve observed and genuinely inquire about their feelings. This initial step can create a safe space for them to open up and share their struggles.

Planning Your Approach

Before initiating a conversation, it’s essential to plan your approach carefully. Find a private and quiet place to talk, ideally after work hours, and consider bringing someone along if you anticipate a potentially volatile reaction. Keep the conversation simple and direct, expressing your genuine concern. Phrases like, “I have noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. Is everything okay?” or “You seem down/frustrated/negative/angry/unhappy. I am concerned this is impacting your health. Can we talk?” can be an excellent starting point.

Respecting Their Wishes

If your co-worker responds defensively, insists they’re fine, or deems it none of your business, respect their wishes without judgment. Share your observations calmly and inquire if there’s someone else they feel comfortable talking to. Suggesting someone with similar experiences, or a trusted figure like a pastor can be helpful. Always keep the door open by expressing your availability for future conversations when they feel ready.

Listening with Empathy

If your co-worker decides to confide in you, avoid minimizing or dismissing their feelings. Everyone experiences situations differently, so practice empathy and actively listen. Use attentive body language to create a comfortable and open atmosphere, making them feel like the most important person in the room. Encourage self-care practices, such as sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and hobbies, as these can contribute to their mental wellbeing.

Responding to Suicidal Thoughts

In the most challenging of situations, when a co-worker confides in you about suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative to act swiftly. Do not leave them alone. If they express suicidal intentions or plans, call 911 immediately, and stay with them or arrange for someone they trust to be by their side. Maintain an empathetic and supportive stance, and continue to listen and engage with them until professional help arrives.

In the construction industry, where strength and resilience are hallmarks, demonstrating compassion and support for our co-workers in their moments of vulnerability can save lives. By following these steps, we can build a workplace culture that prioritizes mental health and fosters an environment where no one has to suffer in silence. Visit the Construction Suicide Prevention Week website if you are in need of more resources.

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May 16, 2024