How to support a colleague with depression

Learn what to say and how to be supportive when a workmate is going through a hard time.

This article was written by our community partner, Beyond Blue. Medibank and Beyond Blue are working together to empower all people in Australia to be better connected with knowledge, resources and support to improve their mental health and wellbeing. Visit the Beyond Blue website for more information on mental health and older people.

holding hands on a table

Spending a lot of time with your work colleagues puts you in a good position to notice when something’s up. A lot of us have close friendships with one or more of our workmates. However, it can be tricky to navigate a conversation with someone about how they’re going – beyond the everyday chats you have – in your workplace.

Given so many people have been working remotely for the last 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, it may have been difficult for colleagues to gauge how each other have been feeling in a virtual setting. 

However, that doesn't change the fact that one in five workers in Australia is currently experiencing a mental health condition, so it’s possible that someone you know may be going through a hard time and be in need of support. You may notice changes in a workmate’s behaviour that might indicate they’re not coping.

The signs

Here are some changes in behaviour to look out for:

  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • decreased or inconsistent productivity
  • often away or late
  • making more errors in work and missing deadlines
  • not attending social events they would normally like
  • showing less interest in work and those around them
  • seemingly generally unhappy
  • constantly tired and run-down.
  • saying things like “I’m a failure” or “It’s my fault”

We all get sad or moody from time to time but if you notice that many of these symptoms are present for more than two weeks then it may be time to have a conversation with them about it.

Find out more about depression.

Beyond Blue

Learn more about anxiety, depression, suicide prevention and ways to support your mental health.

Having the conversation

It can be tricky to have personal conversations in the workplace so the first step might be to ask them out for a coffee or lunch. It's equally tough to have them when both you and the colleague you're concerned about are both working remotely.

It’s possible that your friend may already have a history of mental health issues, or on the flip-side, they may have never experienced something like this before.

Always try to be considerate and supportive – making sure to focus on them and how they are, rather than problems that may have happened at work.

It may sound simple, but a good first step is asking, “Are you OK?” Tell them you’ve noticed they haven’t seemed like themself lately.

Ensure they know your conversation is private, and if they’re not comfortable opening up to you, encourage them to talk to someone else. It might be HR, their manager or a support service outside of work.  

If they do want to talk, make sure to listen and let them speak. Offer to help them seek further support if necessary but remember, it is possible to work with a mental health condition, so often this will be more about helping them improve their work-life, rather than them stopping work altogether.

Talk through next steps together and after the conversation is over, be sure to check back in with them in the following weeks to see how they’re going.

Find more tips on things to say and starting a conversation. For more advice on looking after your mental health at work, and that of your colleagues, visit the Heads Up website.

24/7 Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

Related articles

Looking for something else?

Visit our Better Minds hub to find more tools and services.

Things you need to know

~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).