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📫 When is it OK to ask R U OK?

The #people post
When do you ask R U OK? Can you ask any time? What if they are OK? Will they be upset? How do I know someone needs help?

This newsletter is a little less fun than others; it talks about depression, anxiety, stress and the consequences, including suicide. I can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant topic, but it is essential to talk about, especially in the situation we currently find ourselves.
My hope is that, by reading this email, some of you might be able to help a colleague who might otherwise be suffering in silence. If you do, please let me know, we all need good news stories right now.
Additionally, I’m not a medical professional, and so if any of the below resonates with you, either for yourself or someone you know, then reach out and talk, there are some links and phone numbers at the bottom of the mail. Although, if you want to reach out to me, I’m more than happy to talk. 👍
Reading time: 6 mins
Depression at work
In 2019, 1,800 out of every 100,000 workers suffered from anxiety, depression or work-related stress in Great Britain. Each of those cases accounted for 21.2 days of lost work. [^1]
That’s 12.8 million days, just in Great Britain.
“In 2019, there were 5,691 suicides registered in England and Wales, an standardised rate of 11.0 deaths per 100,000 population and consistent with the rate in 2018. ”[^2]
Three-quarters of those deaths were men.
These figures are shocking. But they highlight a problem that has been around for a while and will continue to be around as long as going to work is a thing. Next year, when the real cost of the pandemic is known, it’s likely these stats will be higher.
As people battle with uncertainty, loneliness and job losses, it’s crucial now, more than ever, to take care of each other. 🤗
How does depression feel?
Spotting depression is not always easy. The symptoms and signs can range from feeling a bit blue, to an overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness.
This latter end of the scale may impair someones thought processes; their ability to focus and apply attention could be low or non-existent and negative thought patterns, and loops, which could lead to suicidal thoughts are also possible.
The UK mental health charity Mind says that people with depression may also feel restless, guilty, numb, isolated, a sense of unreality, no confidence or self-esteem and unable to find pleasure in things. [^3]
What does depression look like?
It feels awkward, asking R U OK? What if they’re not OK, what do I do then? What if they are OK and just having a bad day, will I upset them? It’s better to ask than not to ask, someone who is just having a bad day may snap at you, but they’ll get over it, someone who is depressed may appreciate you asking.
That said, here are some behaviours that people suffering from depression at work will exhibit:
  • Avoiding social events:
  • This will be harder to spot as everyone is at work. But if a colleague is skipping the virtual drinks or coffee chats you’ve been organising this might be a time to ask R U OK?
  • Difficulty speaking, thinking or concentrating
  • A usually eloquent colleague that has begun to repeat themselves, mix up their arguments or start a different conversation from the one you thought you were having might need a chat. Equally, someone who isn’t delivering and cites being unable to concentrate may need to talk.
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Making decisions can often be challenging. Sometimes work throws things at us that are more challenging than life’s regular pros and cons. Still, someone who repeatedly makes easy decisions look difficult, or procrastinates on simple binary decisions may need help.
  • Being offline, or un-contactable more frequently or longer than usual
  • This may be a sign that they’re sleeping too much or simply unable to bring themselves to work, even at their kitchen table.
  • Getting angry or agitated easily
  • Frequent, out of character angry outbursts, emails or chats my indicate changes in mood that can be linked to depression.
Be considerate - the odd example of these from a colleague, or a someone consistently only exhibiting one behaviour may not be depressed. After all, some people don’t like social events, and others struggle to make decisions. If you spot multiple of the behaviours consistently, it’s worth reaching out.
Also consider talking to mutual colleagues to see if anyone has witnessed the same behaviours, or is similarly concerned. But be mindful of gossip though - sometimes you know your colleagues better than their friends and family, we often spent more time with other humans at work than we did with humans we consider friends and family.
Pay closer attention to those people you know live alone. I’ve colleagues in Melbourne and Sydney who I know live alone and check in regularly with them. But being alone, especially in a lockdown, can be extra tricky.
How can I help someone with depression?
The most valuable thing you can do is listen. Be open and honest about depression and difficult emotions. You may not even need to say anything, just being there to listen might be enough.
Asking someone, out of the blue, R U OK? can still feel a bit … forced and unnatural. A good friend of mine, Matt, gave some great advice:
Give your question some context. If you’ve noticed someone isn’t coming to work drinks [virtual or otherwise], asking “R U OK?” is a bit out of the blue and your colleague might thing ‘What? What have you noticed?’.
Instead, asking something like “Hey Bob, you used to come to all the drinks, but we haven’t seen you recently, R U OK?” or if the behaviour is affecting performance, then as a manager, you could ask “Hey Emilia, your last two reports haven’t been as polished as usual, is there anything I can help with, R U OK?”
Providing context allows your colleague to say “Yeah, the wife has arranged a rock climbing club on the drinks night, that’s why I don’t come anymore.” or, “Yeah, I tend to get a bit down after alcohol, so avoid it now.” This gives you both an opportunity to talk about what’s happening.
Support them to get help. Don’t force anyone to get help. Reassure them that it’s OK to ask for help, we all need it from time to time. We spend a pile of money on making our bodies look great in a gym, but little to no time is spent on one of our most important muscles - our brain. Also, don’t do everything for them if they’re struggling. It might be tempting to take as much off their plate as possible, but ask if they need help and encourage them to do some things themselves.
Keep in touch with them. Make sure you initiate conversations. It might be hard for someone with depression to reach out - they may not have the energy to, they may feel like they’re being a bother. Something as simple as a Slack or Teams message saying hi, or asking how they are can make a big difference.
Don’t criticise! Unless you’ve experienced depression yourself, it’s hard to comprehend what someone is going through. It’s not just being a bit sad, it’s much more than that and suggesting someone “Snap out of it” or “smell the roses” definitely won’t help.
Also, check what kind of things your organisation provides already for this kind of thing. Some orgs have an employee helpline or similar that you can use for help and support.
What about me?
Finally, make sure you take good care of yourself. It’s hard to be useful to anyone if you’re also struggling. It’s like being on an airplane, and the oxygen mask drops down. Fit yours before helping others, passed-out people can’t fit oxygen masks on those who need their help.
Practice and look after your own mental well being and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
If you, or someone you know needs help
Here are some numbers and addresses:
  • Samaritans: 116 123
  • Mind
  • for help with depression.
  • Anxiety UK:
  • 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)
  • Men’s Health Forum
  • Sane
  • Samaritans: 1 (800) 273-8255 (TALK).
  • Crisis Text Line:
  • Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling
  • Veterans Crisis Line:
  • 1-800-273-8255
  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline
  • (1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • Samaritans: 135 247
  • Head to Health
  • Beyond Blue
  • 1300 22 46 36
  • Black Dog Institute:
  • Lifeline:
  • Phone: 13 11 14 or Text: 0477 13 11 14 6pm - midnight AEST
📪 End #post
Thanks for reading. Any feedback is warmly received, hit me up
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Mike Pearce
Mike Pearce @the_peoplepost

The #people post

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