Helping Your Colleague with Their New Mental Illness Diagnosis

Receiving any diagnosis isn’t easy, but being diagnosed with a mental illness must come with some unique challenges as well as produce an array of feelings. As a colleague, you can be supportive if a coworker has a new diagnosis. Here are 5 ways to show your support:

Create a judgement-free zone: If your coworker has chosen to share her diagnosis with you, that’s an honor and a testimony to how much she trusts you. Make sure you set the tone in the workplace for no judgement. Let her know that she is safe to verbalize what she might need.

Educate yourself:  Research the diagnosis. Find out as much as you can so you can better understand what your colleague might struggle with or need. You may even ask her what you can do to support her or ask your own doctor for specific information about this diagnosis. It will give you greater insight and also a bonus is that you’ll be better prepared should anyone else you know be dealt a similar diagnosis.

Be willing to pick up some slack: If your coworker’s new diagnosis causes her to have time off or leave for doctors’ appointments, be willing to help her out when you’re able. If you can cover for her time off, offer to do that. Or if you can pick up some of her tasks so she doesn’t get too overwhelmed while adjusting to this new diagnosis, do so if appropriate. Remember to establish boundaries with this…

Set up appropriate boundaries: You have to maintain your own good health. While you can be a good friend and supportive coworker to your colleague, keep an eye on your own health. Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed being a sounding board or working extra hours or doing extra work in the same amount of hours. Be willing to help, but make sure healthy boundaries are intact.

Have compassion and patience: Even a mild diagnosis can be difficult to come to terms with. So while you may feel like she should be adjusted “by now”, she may cope at a slower pace. Allow your colleague to process as she needs to. And have compassion with yourself. Maybe you need to talk to someone about how to handle this diagnosis while maintaining a healthy workplace with reasonable boundaries, so you both can be healthy with a solid work relationship.


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