Depression is a difficult illness for everyone involved. Obviously the person living through depression has it the worst, trying to reconcile persistent negative thoughts or to express feelings to other people. But depression also has a massive impact on people who interact with those afflicted by it. Friends, family, and coworkers of depressed individuals often struggle to create healthy paths of communication.
Here are a few tips for team members who know or may suspect that a coworker is depressed. It’s not an easy situation to address, but if have a relationship with a depressed coworker there are ways that you can let him or her know that you are supportive.
Strike up a conversation
One of the hardest things to cope with in depression is the isolation you feel. Invite a depressed coworker out to get some coffee or to grab lunch. Keep the conversation light and upbeat, and try to get him or her to open up without prying too deeply. Let your coworker do the talking (if she wants to talk at all), and try to get her to talk about something positive. And if he declines your request to go out and have a chat, don’t pressure him into saying yes. He might feel uncomfortable opening up about his personal life in a work setting, so honor his privacy by not pushing the matter too hard. What matters is that you show him that you’re willing to talk.
Hear them out
In the event that your coworker opens up about her depression, give her the courtesy of hearing her out. Don’t interrupt her or try to sympathize with what she’s feeling. Chances are that she just wants to share her feelings with someone. The best you can do is just to listen and be attentive. So many people with depression don’t share their feelings because they’re afraid that people don’t want to hear about their problems or wouldn’t understand their plight.
Don’t try to “fix” them
This is probably the hardest rule to follow, especially among people who think they “get” depression without ever having experienced it themselves. Depression is one of the hardest illnesses to live with simply because it’s become so generalized in our culture: anyone can say they’re “depressed” when they might just be a temporarily sad or distressed over an isolated incident. When someone genuinely afflicted with depression tries to make his feelings known, he is often met with sympathy from people who really don’t understand how it feels.
What’s worse, these same people might try to offer unfounded advice on how to combat depression. To be clear: you should NOT offer potential solutions or personal tips to your depressed coworker – no matter how you might want to. You may mean well, but he has probably received similar unwarranted advice before. The best you can do is to be there for him when he wants to talk, and leave the therapeutic work to professionals who know how to handle this serious illness.
About the author:
Casey Wheeler is a freelance blogger and a career counselor helping readers understand and process realities of everyday living. He writes about psychology and counseling among other subjects at onlinepsychologydegree.net. Feel free to send any comments and questions his way.