World Mental Health Day – Looking After Younger Colleagues In The Workplace

10 October 2018

Today Is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’. If you have children or young people in your life, you’ll already be aware of how different it is growing up and becoming an adult today, compared to how it was only a decade or so ago.

The impact of socio-economic pressures, living in a digitally connected world, and the pressure to be successful whether that’s passing exams or having hundreds of Instagram likes, means that many young people are affected by mental health problems. Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third most common health issue or disease in this group, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.

Supporting Young People Entering The Workplace

If you have young colleagues who are just starting out in their careers, there’s a high chance that one of them will be suffering from a mental health problem. Statistically one in ten children and young people have mental health issues, but only 30% will have received any intervention or treatment*.

Depression, anxiety and low confidence can have a serious impact on an individual’s quality of life and ability to function on a day-to-day basis. If they’re also contending with their first job, adjusting to being an adult and all the additional pressures and responsibilities that brings; mental health issues can get worse and that can have a long term impact on their adult lives.

When a colleague has a mental health problem it can also impact on the workplace. You may find that they’re not ‘pulling their weight’, that you’re having to cover for them, and that they’re not good company to be around. Unfortunately, many people don’t consider that their younger colleague may be struggling with depression or stress, and instead put their behaviour down to being immature or lazy. How often have you heard someone lamenting ‘the youth of today’?

So, how can employers and colleagues support young people in the workplace with mental health issues?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Be Open And Talk About Mental Health

Raising awareness and doing your best to de-stigmatise mental health issues is a great way to create an environment where a colleague feels confident they can talk about their health problems. One way to do this is to share information that you come across, whether that’s with your colleagues or team via email or by putting up posters on noticeboards.

Also try to talk about mental health when the opportunity arises. If you can draw on personal experience and share what’s happened to you, friends or family, your colleagues will know that you will offer a sympathetic ear if they need it.

2.Share The Support Your Employer Provides

If your employer has mental health initiatives in place, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, share those links or the information with your colleagues internally. Today is a great opportunity to do so along with the following message “since it’s World Mental Health Day I thought it would be a good time to share these links in case you or someone you know needs support”.

3. Educate Yourself On The Symptoms Of Stress And Depression

As well as raising awareness about mental health issues and the support that’s available, give yourself some basic tools to spot if a colleague is finding things tough.  This blog post on spotting whether you’re stressed can help you identify whether people around you are under pressure.

While you can never make assumptions about someone’s mental health, you may find you can help them without actually confronting them. For example, if you suspect a younger colleague is depressed try to give them more of your time by inviting them to lunch or a coffee. Be available, be prepared to listen and offer support if it’s asked for. Similarly, if a colleague appears stressed see what you can do to give them a break, perhaps by taking on some of their workload temporarily to give them a little head space.

It’s a very challenging time in a young person’s life when they’ve just entered the workforce. It can trigger mental health issues or make existing conditions worse, and often the individual will be trying very hard to hide any problems. After all they’re already under pressure to make a good impression at work and succeed in their chosen career, so they may be worried that talking about mental health issues could damage their prospects.

Therefore, it’s really important to make sure young people know that they’re not alone, that support is available and that asking for help will not damage their career or relationships at work.

Let your colleagues know you’re there for them by following the tips above, or by sharing this blog post!


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