How You Can Support A Colleague with Mental Illness
Unfortunately, mental illness still carries a stigma and many people hide their illness either due to fear of repercussions at work, because they are embarrassed about their personal issues, or because they aren't even aware of what is wrong.
Typically, people don’t ‘melt down’ at work. Most mental illness doesn’t manifest that way. The most common way co-workers realize there may be a problem is that a co-worker suddenly isn’t at work for a span of days or weeks. They colleague returns to work and may disclose to close friends they’ve been off struggling with depression, or anxiety or other illness. Word spreads.
So what can you do to help? Your work friend may seem uncomfortable or embarrassed. They may be worried. They may fear being stigmatized and ‘left behind’ on the career path.
Did you know that in Canada you don’t have to report why you are struggling with a disability? You do not have to disclose the cause of the disability, simply report you are experiencing health problems and that you require accommodations. You may have to provide further information from your healthcare professional about the challenges you face, but they are not entitled to the diagnosis. In addition to this in Ontario the Human Rights Code protects everyone from harassment or discrimination due to mental health or addiction.
Hopefully your co-worker has asked for help from the employer and once (s)he has the onus moves to the employer to accommodate the request and to provide support. Even if the employee hasn’t asked for help, if the employer suspects a mental disability, they are required by law in Ontario to step in and take action. The employer may offer flex hours, offer help from benefits on support programs, give guidance to find resources, or allowing for time off to attend addiction/support programs.
If you fear that your co-worker hasn’t told your employer about their struggles you can approach your employer and in full confidence advise them of the problem knowing their co-worker CANNOT BE FIRED for struggling with mental illness.