How to Deal With a Mentally Ill Coworker

Updated on January 31, 2018
FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with applied experience in corporate human resources and consulting.

Working with a mentally ill colleague may be challenging, but resist the urge to disparage him or her for his illness.  How to support without enabling.
Working with a mentally ill colleague may be challenging, but resist the urge to disparage him or her for his illness. How to support without enabling. | Source

Someone You Work With Is Mentally Ill

Look around the office. Chances are, someone you work with is mentally ill. Yet, they may be suffering in silence because mental illness is still deeply stigmatized.

Mental illness refers to biologically-based conditions that interfere with a person's thoughts, feelings, moods, social interaction, and ability to function.1

Working Wounded: Mental Illness in the Workplace

Co-workers may have family, legal, financial, or health concerns that overwhelm their ability to cope.  You just never know the baggage they're carrying.
Co-workers may have family, legal, financial, or health concerns that overwhelm their ability to cope. You just never know the baggage they're carrying. | Source

Statistics About Mental Illness

Here are facts you may not realize:

  • One in five American adults struggles with a mental disorder during any given year.2
  • Among the most common disorders are anxiety disorders. Almost 29% of American adults are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Examples include phobias, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.3
  • Mental illness is the leading cause of workplace absenteeism.4
  • It is also the leading cause of disability in the United States for people 15 to 44 years old.5
  • By 2020, major depression (the "common cold" of mental health) is predicted to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide.6

Thus, given that you are probably already working with someone who is mentally ill, what is the best way to handle the situation?

Depression Hurts

Among mental health professionals, depression is considered the "common cold" of mental health. By 2020, it is expected to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide.
Among mental health professionals, depression is considered the "common cold" of mental health. By 2020, it is expected to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide. | Source

Reader Poll

Have you ever worked with a person with a mental illness?

See results

Behaviors That Could Signal a Mental Health Problem

If a coworker exhibits difficult behavior on the job, it may signal that something deeper is going on in their lives.

According to Mental Health America, the following behaviors could indicate an employee is struggling with mental health issues:

  • missed deadlines
  • slow pace of work
  • frequent absences and lateness
  • unexplained displays of hostility and irritability
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • appearing withdrawn or devoid of emotion
  • frequent forgetting of instructions and procedures
  • overworking and
  • expressing difficulty with changes in work routines.7

Difficult Behaviors on the Job

Employees who exhibit difficult behaviors on the job -- yelling, creating conflict, shirking job responsibilities -- can impact the entire team.
Employees who exhibit difficult behaviors on the job -- yelling, creating conflict, shirking job responsibilities -- can impact the entire team. | Source

"There is no deeper wound than humiliation. The momentary glory we may feel in humiliating someone is short-lived compared to the damage we cause.”

— Rabbi Irwin Katsof

Don't Assume, Diagnose, or Label

Just because someone displays these symptoms, however, does not necessarily mean they are mentally ill.

If you've noticed a negative pattern of changes in a coworker's behavior, or if you see that their performance or attitude has slipped significantly, do not assume that mental illness is in play. You are likely unqualified to render a diagnosis. Plus, given the stigma of mental illness, such labels often serve to alienate others.

The line between employees' work and personal lives has blurred. This additional stress may aggravate existing mental illness.
The line between employees' work and personal lives has blurred. This additional stress may aggravate existing mental illness. | Source

Life Stressors Can Also Cause Changes in Behavior

Negative changes in behavior could indicate that the employee is facing serious life stressors rather than mental illness. For example, financial or marital strain, caring for a family member with a serious illness, or coping with one's own recent medical diagnosis could each cause a person to become distracted and sullen.

Consider the following situation as an example.

I once worked with a woman who was behaving erratically. She was frequently out of the office, was prone to mood swings, and was terribly unproductive. She spent a lot of time on personal phone calls, lashed out at others, and could not be counted on to honor deadlines.

For months, a secret had plagued her, and no one knew it until her secret hit the newspaper. Her husband was under indictment for federal tax evasion charges because he had spent thousands of dollars on high-priced call girls and then mischaracterized his expenses as "business expenses." His problem had come to light when he had been caught in a federal sting operation.

My coworker was suddenly facing divorce, single parenthood, and trouble from the IRS (even though she was an innocent spouse). Her husband was meanwhile facing a federal prison sentence, loss of his business, unwanted fame on the 6 o'clock news, and hefty legal fees. No wonder she had been difficult to work with!

This just goes to show that it's never safe to assume.

You Never Know What Is Going on in a Colleague's Personal Life

Colleagues may have financial, legal, marital, or health concerns that you can only imagine.  Their behavior may or may not be rooted in mental illness.
Colleagues may have financial, legal, marital, or health concerns that you can only imagine. Their behavior may or may not be rooted in mental illness. | Source

Express Concern: Describe the Behaviors That Concern You

Regardless of the source of your coworker's trouble, you are in a good position as a colleague to express concern and to encourage them to seek help.

If you are comfortable doing so, talk to your colleague in a private setting. (Alternatively, you may talk to a supervisor about your concerns.)

Express concern rather than requesting to know what is going on. Be authentic and compassionate. Describe the changes you have seen.

By keeping your descriptions behavior-based, you can help reduce your coworker's defensiveness. Also, focus on behaviors that you have personally witnessed or experienced rather than relying on second-hand descriptions.

While some coworkers outwardly exhibit signs of mental illness, others suffer in silence.
While some coworkers outwardly exhibit signs of mental illness, others suffer in silence. | Source

Suggest Resources

Offer to help connect your colleague with resources that can help him or her cope with what is going on in his/her life. For example, many companies provide voluntary, confidential counseling services through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

EAPs can help employees and family members who are encountering emotional difficulties, legal or financial troubles, marital difficulties, or problems on the job. Your Human Resources department can provide information on your EAP's benefits and how to access them.

Offer your coworker the EAP number in a non-judgmental way (e.g., "in case you ever need this," or "a lot of people find this helpful"). If your company does not have an EAP, encourage your colleague to reach out to his or her family physician or a psychologist for next steps.

EAP should never be required of an employee except under the advice of counsel. If a person poses an imminent danger to themselves or others, immediately call 911.

You probably have no real clue what's going on in your coworker's life.  Stick with the behaviors you see and be non-judgmental in your description.
You probably have no real clue what's going on in your coworker's life. Stick with the behaviors you see and be non-judgmental in your description. | Source

Encourage Ongoing Self-care and Responsibility

Once you have provided your coworker with EAP information, it is okay to occasionally follow up regarding how they are doing. However, it is inappropriate to specifically ask whether they have called EAP or sought counseling. That's an invasion of their privacy.

Empower your coworker's self-care by providing support and information, then step out of the way. Allow your colleague to responsibly steer his or her own life.

You can support them without enabling by continuing to include your colleague in group activities and short-circuiting office gossip about their situation. Your colleague should not be marginalized because of the stigma of mental illness.

You can also support a healthier workplace by encouraging all of your coworkers to take occasional 10-minute breaks, lunch breaks (away from the desk), and scheduled vacations to help manage their stress. If your company has a fitness center, a medical clinic, or other health-related resources you might also recommend that your colleague care for himself/herself this way.

People with a disability, such as a mental disorder, should not be held to a lower work standard, according to the ADA.  They still have a job to do, although accommodations may be required.
People with a disability, such as a mental disorder, should not be held to a lower work standard, according to the ADA. They still have a job to do, although accommodations may be required. | Source

They Still Have a Job to Do

Whether mentally ill or not, an employee needs to be able to perform their job. Don't get into the habit of covering or making excuses for your coworker, and don't expect less of someone who has a mental illness.

If your coworker needs to request a workplace accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), allow them do it. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, as well as State and local governments, employment agencies and labor organizations.

The ADA requires a covered employer to

provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment" unless doing so would present undue hardship.9

The process of requesting an accommodation involves interaction among the employee, the health care provider, and the employer. Reasonable accommodations for mentally ill employees depend on individual circumstances, but examples could include the following:

  • time off to attend appointments
  • a job coach
  • adjustments to the work location or
  • modifications to how work instructions are provided.

Even though you notice the problem behaviors, you don't own them.  It's the employee's responsibility to seek help and improve his/her job performance.  You can't do this for them.
Even though you notice the problem behaviors, you don't own them. It's the employee's responsibility to seek help and improve his/her job performance. You can't do this for them. | Source

If Their Behavior Interferes with Your Performance

Sometimes coworkers develop an unacceptable behavior pattern that demand escalation to management.

If you have attempted other solutions and your coworker's behavior now interferes with your job performance or client satisfaction, don't allow the situation to deteriorate before taking action.

Document the following information about the offending behavior:

  • what was the behavior & situation
  • when did it occur
  • who was involved & how
  • what were the impacts of the behavior on productivity, customer satisfaction, etc.?

Then, present your pattern of data to management. Keep your emotions out of the conversation. Instead, focus on how your coworker's behavior is impacting the team and/or customers.

Have a specific request in mind (e.g., require the coworker to honor deadlines), and realize that your supervisor already may be struggling with how to effectively manage your colleague's performance difficulties. Don't add to the conflict by considering the disagreement with your colleague personal.

Try to seek a common ground in dealing with a coworker who may be working through mental or interpersonal issues. Today it's your colleague, but tomorrow it could be you who needs the extra understanding.

Gossip often shames and embarrasses the subject and speaks volumes about the people spreading information, regardless of whether it is true.  Don't go there.
Gossip often shames and embarrasses the subject and speaks volumes about the people spreading information, regardless of whether it is true. Don't go there. | Source

Don't Gossip

If your coworker entrusts you with personal information, refrain from repeating it. Avoid the temptation to treat it as a bit of juicy gossip. Gossip often shames and embarrasses the subject, but it also speaks volumes about those who spread it. If tempted to gossip, stop first and ask yourself why you would want to repeat the information. If it isn't out of kindness -- out of a spirit of helping -- then it's best to keep the information to yourself.

Watch Your Language: Words Can Wound

Workers with mental illness do file complaints of disability harassment because of frequent use of words like these.  Watch your language.  Be professional.
Workers with mental illness do file complaints of disability harassment because of frequent use of words like these. Watch your language. Be professional. | Source

Words Can Be Weapons

Watch your language around the office.

Everyday speech is filled with words and phrases that are rude and mocking of those who suffer from mental disorders.

Whether you are describing a "crazy" idea or joking that someone is "not playing with a full deck," be aware that phrases that could malign entire groups of people are not appropriate for a professional environment. Certainly, you don't want your behavior to become an issue in an HR investigation. Be aware that workers with mental illness do file complaints of disability harassment because of inappropriate language that is commonly used against them in the workplace.

Even if you do not believe you work with someone with a mental illness, they could have family members who are mentally ill. Be exact in your wording so that you mean what you say and say what you mean.

Remember, too, that mental illness is a treatable medical condition, not a defect in character or willpower.

Recommend Resources for Your Coworker

Many companies provide voluntary, confidential counseling services through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  Recommend that they seek help.
Many companies provide voluntary, confidential counseling services through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Recommend that they seek help. | Source

Mental Disorders at Work

Symptoms of some mental disorders might manifest themselves differently at work than in other situations.8

Depression At Work

Depression may take the following forms in the workplace: nervousness, irritability, frequent complaints about minor physical ailments, lack of engagements, slow productivity, and fatigue.

Depressed employees are estimated to lose the equivalent of 27 days from work due to illness and lost productivity. People with depression are more likely to frequently change jobs.

Bipolar Disorder At Work

About 1% of American adults have bipolar disorder. The disorder typically involves cycling between depressive phases and manic, or elevated, phases.

During a manic phase, colleagues may notice the person's self-aggrandizements, rule breaking, disruptiveness, and their boundless energy.

Bipolar employees are estimated to miss 28 days from work due to illness and absences, with an additional 35 days in lost productivity.

ADHD At Work

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects approximately 3.5% of employees.

Symptoms include problems managing workload and deadlines, disorganization, difficulty with following instructions, and conflicts with co-workers.

Employees with ADHD lose an estimated 22 days from work. In addition, they are

  • 18 more times more likely to receive discipline
  • two to four times more likely to be fired and
  • likely to earn only 60-80% of the pay that their colleagues without ADHD do.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in the corner and cry by myself for hours."

— Eric Idle, Comedian

Famous Mentally Ill People in History

Portrait of Beethoven, 1820
Portrait of Beethoven, 1820 | Source

Take the Quiz

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References

1 NAMI. (2018). Mental Health Conditions | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions.

2 "NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness | Mental Health By the Numbers." NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness | NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed August 6, 2016. http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers.

3 National Institute of Mental Health. "NIMH · Half of Adults With Anxiety Disorders Had Psychiatric Diagnoses in Youth." NIMH · Home. Last modified February 7, 2007. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml.

4 McDonohough, Brian. "Leading Cause Of Absenteeism." CBS Philly. Last modified October 1, 2012. http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/10/01/leading-cause-of-absenteeism/.

5 Mental Health America. "Ranking America's Mental Health: An Analysis of Depression Across the States: Mental Health America." Welcome: Mental Health America. Accessed June 7, 2013. http://www.nmha.org/go/state-ranking.

6 World Health Organization. Promoting Mental Health: Concepts, Emerging Evidence, Pratice. France: World Health Organization, 2004. http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/en/promoting_mhh.pdf.

7 Mental Health America. "What to Do When You Think an Employee May Need Mental Health Help: Mental Health America." Welcome: Mental Health America. Accessed June 7, 2013. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/employee-may-need-mental-health-help.

8Harvard University. "Mental Health Problems in the Workplace." Health Information and Medical Information - Harvard Health Publications. Accessed June 7, 2013. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2010/February/mental-health-problems-in-the-workplace.

9United States Department of Justice. "Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act." ADA.gov homepage. Accessed February 9, 2014. http://www.ada.gov/.

Abraham Lincoln Also Experienced Mental Ilness

Yep, him too!
Yep, him too! | Source

Questions & Answers

  • If an employee tells you they are mentally ill, what should you say?

    While your initial inclination might be to respond just as if they had shared that they had a physical ailment, keep in mind that a lot depends on 1) the employee's rationale for divulging such sensitive information and 2) the nature and quality of your relationship with the coworker.

    If you are close coworkers and know a lot about one another's lives and families, then it may seem a natural extension of an existing, trusting relationship to reveal that detail. Hold it in the same trusted confidence that you would any other medical information. Don't repeat it and don't get nosey about it. They may be sharing the information more out of friendship than anything else. Perhaps they're not wanting you to specifically SAY anything but rather listen and empathize. Maybe they're trying to provide an explanation for a behavior that you find confusing. Listen.

    There are others in the workforce, however, who tend to share their personal information inappropriately. In these situations, there's no obvious point in why these employees are divulging this information. For example, they may overshare by telling people they barely know WAY too much information about themselves. You can usually spot these folks by their verbal diarrhea. (Resist the temptation to return the "favor" of sharing your own deeply personal information.)

    If coworkers' personal and medical information is not something you wish to know (unless it impacts the work environment and specifically your job), then you can say something benign to shut down additional sharing. For example, "That doesn't change how I see you as a coworker." Then change the topic or remove yourself from the scene.

    There is another circumstance, however, in which an employee may self-identify as mentally ill because they are requesting an accommodation for a disability. Keep in mind that an employee is NOT required to use certain words when requesting an accommodation.

    If you serve in a leadership capacity and the coworker confides his/her mental illness, it's important to clarify whether they are requesting an accommodation for a disability (and if so, what your company's procedures are for addressing this request). Ask whether they are making an accommodation request or simply sharing information about themselves. You can do this in a caring and sincere way. Don't pry into the medical information but instead simply inquire what accommodation, if any, they are requesting. Then immediately contact HR for assistance, if it's an accommodation request. (Again, this is for people in leadership roles.) Examples of accommodation requests include: wanting to work a modified schedule because of a recently diagnosed mood disorder, requesting an emotional support animal to accompany one to work because of anxiety and panic attacks, or relocating one's cubicle to an area with less traffic and noise.

    We spend about a third of our lives at work, so it's natural to learn sensitive information about one another. While sometimes it enriches work relationships, at other times it can be extremely distracting. Ultimately, the reason we're all there is to work.

  • What should I do if a co-worker tells me that I am passive aggressive, but he is a bipolar?

    Just because someone says it, that doesn't make it true. Just because you don't like it doesn't make it false.

    Bipolar and passive aggressive are labels, rather than behaviors. Labels do nothing to help solve a conflict. Instead of getting upset about what he said, consider it this way:

    Everyone has an opinion, and this co-worker was giving you feedback about how he perceives your work style. Don't automatically dismiss him because he has revealed that has bipolar disorder. (Also, if he didn't share his diagnosis of bipolar disorder with you directly, don't attempt to "diagnose" him either.)

    Rather, just as you would for anyone else, simply consider his feedback as ONE point of data among MANY. (You don't believe everything everyone tells you about yourself, right?)

    If you consistently hear the same feedback from other people, then that's a trend. In that event, you would be well served to give the "data" more weight, perhaps asking for examples to better understand your behavior and its impact on others. Otherwise, just thank him for his feedback, that's all.

    If you do choose to discuss the feedback, be sure to keep things BEHAVIOR-based ("I get frustrated when you interrupt me when I am speaking during team meetings").

© 2013 FlourishAnyway

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    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 months ago from USA

      Fence Dweller - I kid you not. Lost workdays and lost productivity due to mental health issues cause SUBSTANTIAL losses for employers to the tune of $1 trillion annually for US employers. However, if you read my article, I am NOT arguing that people with mental illness should not be employed or should be punished in any way for their disability. I believe in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the protections it provides. Many people with mental illness are able to keep their jobs due to the protections of the ADA.

      The reference you seek: Loeppke R, et al. "Health and Productivity as a Business Strategy: A Multiemployer Study," Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (April 2009): Vol. 51, No. 4, pp. 411–28.

      For general audiences, I recommend turning to my footnote #8, https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/... It provides an overview.

    • profile image

      Fence Dweller 

      3 months ago

      You’re saying bipolar sufferers call in 28 days and are unproductive 35 working days a year? That’s ridiculous. They’d never keep a job if that was the case. None of them. Where did you get your data?

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 months ago from USA

      Chris - Thanks for your insightful comment.

      Employees with mental illness are trying to carve out a living for themselves like the rest of us while also struggling with their health. That's quite a challenge. If we marginalize and discriminate against them, we potentially lose not only necessary workers but also must face the issue of how to care for them.

      Have a great weekend!

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 

      4 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      This is a highly useful article and very relevant today. Finally the shackles of mental health are starting to come off, but there's still so much work to do. I've worked with a lot of people that dealt with mental illness, and I've always tried to put myself in their shoes.

      It's so difficult to deal with and sadly many people suffering end up getting discriminated against or get fired from their job.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      2 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Rajan. So often mentally ill people either fail to seek treatment or do not comply with medical treatment. Definitely treatable with effort and good help.

    • profile image

      Rajan Jolly 

      2 years ago

      Not all odd behaviors are related to mental illness is something that has to be understood. Mental illness is a treatable condition and not a defect as you rightly put it.

      The correct understanding to this will definitely help one to work better with such a person, as well as, offer help to solve their condition. Your suggestions and tips are immensely useful.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      Although most people with mental illness are not violent, that information may or may not apply to the person you are describing. We just don't know, do we? I'm sensing that the propensity for violence is your key concern. However, rather than advise you, I suggest that you refer first to the policies, handbook, or union contract that govern your employment, then talk with your HR department about your concerns. Rules and policies are there for a reason. Keep your concerns behavior and policy-based. For example, has he made specific comments or threats? Even if not, "volunteering" at the same place a person has been previously fired may involve multiple legal issues that should keep HR interested and busy for awhile -- aside from the alleged mental illness issue. (If you are a unionized employee, obviously go to your union steward for representation in the matter.) Good luck.

    • profile image

      Soultrip 

      4 years ago

      I work for a state organization in Ohio my boss told me that his son, who works in the department, who I basically over see, Is hearing voices, his voices and psychotic episode included me trying to restrain him in some, he told his dad that I was trying to restrain him...none of it try. My boss also told me that he had a similar psychotic break earlier this year where he was hearing voices, he was released and was refusing to take his prescribed medications. So the kids was let go as a paying employee however ow he is being allowed to volunteer in the department. No difference as far as I am concerned. What can I do? I talked to both my bosses and they basically said they can't do anything and that if they never told me, I wouldn't have known any difference. I am extremely disappointed and do not feel comfortable in this department any longer. Any suggestions? To I have any rights?

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      Anonymous123456 - Burning smelly wax is one thong, but making threats to cause injury or harm to self or others or property is quite another. Threats need to be reported to HR and/or those in management who will follow up on them. When making the report, keep it behavior-based by reporting exactly what you heard, saw, etc. Report any witnesses and prior complaints/reports you made about him that were dismissed. Don't give up that job search either.

    • profile image

      Anonymous123456 

      4 years ago

      I'm currently working as a contractor for the government and my coworker is a government employee who clearly has mental health issues. He's a veteran and claims he has PTSD, anxiety and depression. He's told me he goes on and off of his medication whenever he wants to. I deal with him coughing, throat clearing and sniffling all day long and I used to deal with him tapping on his desk all day but asked him to stop and when I asked this he acted as if I am weird and he gave me a huge attitude about it. This past week he was melting wax at his desk and stinking up this 12ft x 12ft room we are in. I asked him nicely if he could not burn his wax at work because it was giving me a headache to which he responded no and that he is tired of catering to my requests(even though I've only ever asked him to stop 1 thing before(the tapping), and he does not know that I deal with all his other annoying quirks). I went to my supervisor about it and he had a talking to but I am pretty sure if his condescending behavior continues nothing will happen because the federal government sucks with firing employees based on the research I have done on that subject. I have also heard him make threatening remarks about people behind their backs and I am kind of scared to be working with him in fear that I will get hurt if I offend him anymore. I have also reported this to my employer but alas, the ahole is still here. I'm looking for a new job but not having much luck. I cannot quit this job right now but as soon as I pay off my car I will be quitting...and I will feel really bad for whomever gets my position. The guy I replaced apparently had the same complaints about my coworker that I do....

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      Does It Matter - I'm so sorry to hear about the troubles that both you and your coworker are facing. Particularly since you mention that you are facing some mental health challenges of your own, I would urge you to immediately seek help from a mental health professional who can talk in depth with you about your specific problems and work with you to build skills, address your own issues, and get to a better place psychologically in your life. (Working at home can be isolating, and a suicide attempt from someone close to you can be traumatic.) In dealing with your friend, as much as it might be the first reaction to rush in and flood her with well-meaning attention, if you're not in a good place yourself psychologically it could do you both more harm. Compare it to someone who jumps into quicksand to help a struggling friend or a person who doesn't know how to swim who goes out on a frozen lake to help a friend who's fallen in. You get the picture. In times of crisis, it's important to take care of you and call in reinforcements. I wish you the best.

    • profile image

      Does It Matter 

      4 years ago

      I just rec'd a call that my co-worker who suffers from depression and anxiety tried to kill herself last night. What she is going though is a LONG story...I will say she is in the midst of a divorce, among other things. I made the decision last night to cut "personal friendship" ties with her and not involve myself in her troubles any longer. Now this happened. I am confused, scared, hurt, but mainly worried. I have my own mental health issues, that is why I made the decision that I did...I have to take care of "me" first. She lives far away from me and we work at home so I do not plan on visiting her, but I did buy her a gift last week that I am giving her tonight (leaving it on her desk)...she knew about the gift, and stated she was excited to see what it was. I just asked another co-worker if they had her address and I can mail it to her, I don't know what to do. Am I wrong? Should I not cut friendship ties? Please help. Thank you!!

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      Private poster - We appreciate your perspective.

    • profile image

      private poster 

      4 years ago

      Well, the mentally ill issues need to be addressed in the States like yesterday. Do you guys realize how many adverse effects are created by the mentally ill in the workplace? As a single-parent, how I survived small town culture is beyond me. But, add the coworker mentally ill factor into this equation, and it seems as though I succeeded against all odds. However, with little to no savings or retirement as a result. For example, in customer service, do you guys know what it is like to give customer service to needy and mentally ill people? Do you know what happens when the mentally ill "perceive" that they were mistreated within a customer service transaction? They report the employee to "corporate" who has NO clue the mental status of these people. The same can occur from a supervisor or coworker who is ALSO mentally ill. So, what is being rectified regarding this? How does this affect the economy? How does this affect people who are just trying to live a normal life? Granted these mentally ill types work more so in the service and low-waged job industries, but STILL have been found in office administration and higher up positions. Why do I have to shoulder the responsibility of mental illness in this country, within employment, financially, and career-wise? Just doesn't seem fair to me. If there is a serious mental illness issue in America which needs to be addressed, then it should be addressed and openly discussed so that ALL can be informed and educated. Otherwise, the mental illness behavior will be rewarded and their victims will be punished. Now, that is just insane!

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      ologsinquito - Yes, they did, and it's a good lesson!

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 

      4 years ago from USA

      Oh, that's so sad. I'm sure they felt terrible when they learned the truth.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      ologsinquito - You never know what other people are going through. I had a coworker once who although not mentally ill behaved like a loner. People occasionally commented on that mockingly and come to find out no one knew she was struggling with a terminally ill child. Kindness and not making assumptions both go a long way.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 

      4 years ago from USA

      This is such good advice. The parts about not assuming and not gossiping are so important, because someone who wasn't careful could seriously harm another when they were already down. Voted up and pinning. I'm also going to share this.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      rohanfelix - Thanks for reading and commenting. If you have a mentally ill coworker who is interfering with your work, get them to the right resources so qualified professionals can get them on the road to recovery and help them management their symptoms.

    • rohanfelix profile image

      Rohan Rinaldo Felix 

      4 years ago from Chennai, India

      A very meaningful hub... All too often, we judge people without any idea of what they are going through. My takeaway from this hub is that I must be an enabler to a suffering person, and provide assistance while allowing him/her to be in complete control of his/her actions.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Millionaire Tips - It is surprising how common mental illness is, isn't it? Being a medical condition, it is something that deserves to be treated as such. Unfortunately problem behavior, especially when uncontrolled by medication and/or appropriate therapeutic interventions, can interfere with performance and the work group.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      5 years ago from USA

      Wow - I didn't know that mental illness was that common, but I do know a lot of people with it, and they definitely need to be treated with respect. You've provided great advice here. Voted up.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Crafty - It definitely sounds like this poor lady was in over her head. I bet part of her was relieved when she was let go. I'm sure the staff was relieved as well.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 

      5 years ago

      I once worked with a woman with mental health issues. She was hired to do a manager's job but she had no credentials. It compounded her issues and she was often found crying in her office because everything was overwhelming to her. I went to the managing partner of the firm and told him that this person would be better suited in a different position because she couldn't handle the functions of the job in which she was placed.

      She eventually was fired. Her time at the office was very disruptive to the rest of the employees. But, it is wise to show compassion. She was on so much medication and everything she did she found frustrating. It was hard for her to relax at work. Using soft tone of voice, re-assurance, and praise helped her get through most days.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Faith Reaper - Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and sharing. So many folks in the workforce are walking wounded and it's important to learn how to deal with them. I am glad you found this helpful. It can be a vexing issue

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Very informative and useful hub here as to just exactly how to deal with those in the workplace. This write will come in very handy for me in dealing with such.

      I love your hub name too.

      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Sally -Thank you foy the feedback. So glad this was interesting and helpful for you. Thanks for stopping by!

    • SallyTX profile image

      Sally Branche 

      5 years ago from Only In Texas!

      Fantastic, detailed information and advice! Voted up, awesome and interesting! ;D

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Dolores, for your kind comments. Having worked corporate HR Investigations I saw both sides -- from discrimination and ostracizing of workers with mental illness to unruly mentally ill workers who did not get the proper help and took full advantage of the system to lots of grey area in between.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Wonderfully written advise full of good tips and compassion. It's so easy to fall into anger over the inappropriate behavior of someone else. As you so wisely stated, next time it could be you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Rusticliving - Thanks so much for the kudos and for sharing. It sounds like you had a very challenging work situation, and the oodles of post-it notes, berating, and barrage of emails was a clear indicator that your supervisor/coworker was in dire need of professional help. I'm glad you did not take the situation personally and were able to take the steps needed to alert someone who could intervene positively. What a difficult situation!

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      5 years ago from California

      Fourish~ this is such a great hub! I had found myself in a very hard situation with an individual at work who was not only my co-worker, she was my immediate supervisor. It was evident from the get go that she had some emotional issues and myself and others found that we were constantly walking on eggshells around her. However, she seemed to particularly have it in for me and would constantly berate me out loud in front of everyone. I never broke down and did whatever she asked of me. Until one morning when I came into work and there were at least 30 post it notes all over my chair, desk, and monitor. Half telling me what I was doing wrong and the other half telling me what to do...followed up with 32 emails that matched the post it notes. Needless to say.. this escalated to her supervisor and after demanded counseling, the therapist recommended that she be let go. I believe that the key thing is to always keep your cool and act appropriately, recognize when things do go beyond your control and not be afraid to go above that person's head (whether or not they are your supervisor) Great job, thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared on my end!---Lisa♥

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Rajan. As a result of investigating so many HR employee issues I was always impressed at how many situations of mental illness in the workforce exist. Many times you just don't know until difficult behavior crops up. I appreciate the read and vote!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very useful information and you outline the steps to deal with such people and situation very well.

      Voted up.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      btrbell - Sounds like they need to performance manage her more appropriately. Regardless of any kind of disability an employee may have, s/he still needs to be able to do the job.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      I am dealing with workplace issues right now. I think one of the more frustrating things for me is that my coworkers can call out or leave early whenever they want/need without consequences, leaving the rest of us to pick up the slack. One of these girls is very open about her issues and has taken to taking her anti anxiety medicine whenever it gets stressful at work (which can be often) She then sits in the middle of the store, all woozy. It is awkward and uncomfortable for us and our customers. Thank you for sharing this very informative, well written hub! up++and sharing.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Good one, Carolyn. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 

      5 years ago

      Great post and a topic that needs discussing. But for your next one, could you do "How To Deal With A Mentally Ill Boss Who Won't Get Treatment"? ;-)

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Jenn-Anne, I appreciate your read and encouragement! Thanks for the visit.

    • Jenn-Anne profile image

      Jenn-Anne 

      5 years ago

      Very well-written hub with lots of great information! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Peggy W - Thank you for your read, comment and share. This is a largely ignored issue in the workplace with multiple challenges -- coworkers whose performance can be impacted, the mentally ill worker who may be maligned because of his/her illness, and managers who must keep the peace.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very useful and interesting hub. One never knows what is impacting another person's life and we should be kind and empathetic in our approach to everyone. Obviously in a business environment work is expected and should be accomplished. If that is not done, your suggestions are good ones to follow. Up votes and sharing. Also pinned this.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Thank you for the read and comment, Nell. It's good that you were there for your coworker and could handle her emergency situation. Even as an HR professional and psychologist, I have been surprised at what some workers are dealing with in their personal lives. You think you know the person in the next cube, but they may have significant personal problems or mental health issues that are at the root of difficult behavior.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Great research and so true. We sometimes don't know when someone is suffering, I do remember years ago a girl in my office suffering a complete and utter meltdown in the space of a few minutes. she was shaking, crying, and evidently she had been like this for a long time, but somehow managed to hold back while she was working. Because of her strength keeping hold of her emotions it just flooded out. It was so painful to watch, and what was worse was that the bosses didn't have a clue what to do with her. It was us ladies that took her to one side, covered her up with a blanket gave her hot tea with sugar and called an ambulance. But yes many people are completely in the dark about how to handle it, and as you said, say horrible things or make a joke. wonderful hub, nell

    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 

      5 years ago from WA

      Thanks. I've actually got an interview in a couple of weeks somewhere else and I've got my fingers crossed that things will work out. I've got almost everything documented just in case and I look forward to the chance to possibly start somewhere new, hopefully in a much more professional environment.

    • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      Holy smokes! How awful. Their mental health and management's stated refusal to deal with all the impacts this person's behavior is causing (i.e., on you, customer service, on productivity no doubt) is exacting a serious toll on your own health. You do not have a supportive or professional environment. I urge you to make your own physical and emotional health a priority. When I faced a bad bullying situation at work, one thing that allowed me to get through it while I looked for another job was disconnecting from the meanness and trying not to let it bother me. I refused to give my bully the pleasure she sought. I adopted the mantra "like water off a duck's back" -- nothing was going to bother my zen. I don't think you can stay in that environment. Go be healthy but also document your situation, including the times when you talked to management unsuccessfully and had your job threatened. If you are fired, at least you can file for unemployment and have some evidence of wrongful discharge. Your major focus, however, should be your health and a new job.

    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 

      5 years ago from WA

      This is very informative and I appreciate all the research and work you obviously put into this. I have recently been experiencing some difficulty at work with someone who has openly talked about suffering with anxiety (she has also mentioned that she is on medication for it). She and another of my superiors are going through some tough times dealing with family medical issues and are very aggressively taking it out on me in particular, possibly because I'm still the new person in the office and their assistant.

      Initially, both of these coworkers were rude but I passed it off as a result of a high stress job. For the one with anxiety, I figured it was a part of her disorder and never let it be personal. I even went out and put together two little gift baskets that I surprised them with one morning, letting them know that I've got their back and I'm always here to help them out at work if they need it. They appreciated it and I could tell it made their day and I had hoped things would get better since at that point it'd gotten so bad I'd already talked to the owner here about it.

      However, it only got worse and has started to effect my job and my own mental well being. After two more meetings with the owner/manager, I was informed that I need to "suck it up or leave." Threatened with termination, I then had to keep my fingers crossed as he actually left it up to the decision of these two problem coworkers as to whether or not I could stay. He admits that they are rude to customers and fellow coworkers but says he can't do anything about it and so if I can't handle it, he will just find someone who can.

      Sometimes when people are suffering from a mental disorder or personal issue outside of work, they forget that there are others around them who still have feelings, even if they aren't going through nearly as much as they might be. It's hard to cope with leaving a great job just because of someone else's issues but that's what I'm currently facing at this moment. I suffer from mild anxiety that has only gotten worse these past couple months. I am treated like I don't exist at work by these women and insulted, snapped at, or even yelled at when I sum up the courage to say or ask them anything throughout the day (so I try to avoid them as much as possible). They complain about me and speak to others as if I'm not there, even trash talking me with customers. They even go so far as to run into me if I don't dodge out of their way in time.

      Your advice here is wonderful and I hope that it can help someone out there who may be going through the experience of working with someone with a mental disorder or tough personal issue outside of work. I think my case may be rare because I have previously worked with people with worse conditions and worse personal circumstances and they maintained a much more professional demeanor that, although uncomfortable at times, did not interfere with my own well being or ability to work.

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