Jon & Xav: How to care for people with mental illness at work

Jon: In line with the World Mental Health Day which falls on the 10th of October annually, we at SG Psych Stuff decided to dedicate this post to sharing more about mental illness and share tips on how to better support people suffering from it. A recent survey conducted by the National Council of Social Services found that more than 5 in 10 people polled were unwilling to live with, live nearby, or work with a person with a mental health condition; and 6 in 10 felt that mental illness was the result of a lack in self-discipline and willpower. 

This is a common misconception as mental illness, much like physical ones, can occur to anyone and at any time. So how can we be kinder to people with mental illness, especially at workplaces, where more than 5 in 10 are unwilling to work with people who suffer from it? Here are 3 simple tips you can utilize to make the workplace a more inclusive environment:

1. Ask Questions
 Many of us are probably not familiar with mental illness and may jump to conclusions about why an individual suffering from it behaves the way they do. This lack of understanding causes unease and fear which is natural and unavoidable, but also leads to discrimination and stigmatization of individuals suffering from mental illness. Through asking questions in a sensitive and genuine manner, people with mental illnesses can share their experiences and help educate you on their illness. Some examples of good questions to ask a person with mental illness are: “I may not be able to understand what you’re going through, but could you teach me to how to help you?” or “Would you be open to sharing more about yourself with me?”.

2. Listen
We often listen to people who share their problems with the intent of responding with some form of advice or our personal opinions, but more often than not, people suffering from mental illness just want to be heard. Simply being in the moment and caring about them by asking probing questions such as “would you like to elaborate on that?” or “what you mean when you say that?” allows for them to feel that they have a space where they can share and that someone genuinely wants to listen. Furthermore, phrases like “stop being sad” or “cheer up” simply makes them feel more misunderstood and less heard.

3. Treat Them Like Normal People
This is perhaps the most important thing you can provide people suffering from mental illness. Many, if not all, do not want to be treated as they are any different. They too have their dreams, personalities, lives, relationships, and identity beyond just being a mentally ill person. By treating them as you would any other person, especially after finding out they have a mental illness, you will not only allow them to feel safe around you; but also let them know and feel that they are more than any mental illness label, and they are just like everyone else.

Xav: In recent years, there is an increasing number of people starting the conversation about mental health, as well as people with lived experiences speaking up and advocating for the cause. However, the survey by NCSS is a reminder that while things have been improving, we can and should continue to strive to spread awareness about mental health to the general public as many still lack knowledge about mental illnesses. As mentioned by Jon, mental illness can happen to anyone, and for different reasons. Let us all be more empathetic peers and colleagues, and set aside our judgement to better understand the experiences of those going through mental health issues! 😊