In June of 2020 I had a manic episode related to Bipolar Disorder in front of my boss…on Zoom. I was in a state of hyper paranoia and unwellness that was evident.
He described the look of panic in my eyes as “terrifying”. Imagine being on the other end of that Zoom call. In a time of crisis there is no time to consult an HR manual, you have to rely on your gut instincts to respond. Here’s what I wish every leader knew about handling a mental health crisis in the office.
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How and when to call for help
Remember, if you have any inclination that your employee is in danger and could hurt themselves or someone else you have an obligation to call 911, immediately.
No questions asked. If they aren’t in a state of emergency, reach out to their emergency contact and make them aware of the situation.
Check in on your Human Resources policies and ensure you have followed them and produce the documentation necessary.
The best way to respond to a crisis is to be calm
When I was in a state of crisis the last thing I needed was someone joining in and adding to my state of paranoia. When someone is in a state of crisis it is paramount that you stay calm and respond in a calm manner.
Imagine yourself as the eye of the hurricane…your job is to stay still and breathe. Your job is not to engage and attempt to hold a dialogue. Instead your job is to simply hold space for the person to meet you at your energy level.
If they can’t, that’s a red flag. It’s especially important not to argue or disagree with someone in crisis and not to tell them everything is going to be okay. Instead, respond with “I hear you” and “I’m listening”.
Ask the person what they need
Your inclination may be to ask, how can I help? This question is not helpful to someone in crisis. In my mental health crisis I couldn’t think that far ahead.
Instead, my boss asked me, “what do you need right now?” I told him that I needed to take some time off and I needed to see my doctor. Then I asked for something that surprised us both.
I asked him to make a list for me and I proceeded to give him a list of 38 symptoms I had been experiencing over the prior three weeks. He gave me this list and it became a guide to help my doctor give me the proper diagnosis.
Reach out to their emergency contact
This is a time when you want to hope that their emergency contact is up to date. In my state of crisis, my Mother was downstairs the entire time and was only a phone call away.
My boss told me of his turmoil over trying to decide whether he should call an ambulance, the police or reach out to my emergency contact. He knew I was in a state of crisis and the options to help were limited through Zoom.
Meanwhile, he didn’t want to let me off the line until he knew I had help. Ultimately, he used back channels to connect with my inner circle, ensured they had arrived to help and trusted them to ensure I got the medical treatment I needed. At that point, it’s important to allow the employee privacy to get treatment.
Tell them what resources are available
My company has access to an EAP or Employee Assistance Program through ADP that helps guide employees through their mental health options.
My boss connected me to them and put me on a monitored EAP program. At first I was resistant to having my mental health monitored by my employer, but ultimately I understood it was important for my own accountability.
The only information they received was whether or not I was attending my appointments. Ultimately, I was grateful for the resources and being held accountable to treatment.
I had been diagnosed twice prior to this episode, however, it wasn’t from a doctor I trusted and the diagnosis wasn’t explained.
Therefore, I resisted the diagnosis and the treatment that ultimately saved my life. My EAP program ensured I was staying on track with my mental health.
Also don’t forget to checkout how to release the pressure valve in high stress?
Take everything off of their plate
When someone is in crisis they need to know you have their back on the work front. Many times the stress from work is a contributing factor to the crisis, so ensure the person that you have their back and they are free to focus on their health.
You must ensure them that there won’t be negative ramifications for their employment status if they seek treatment. Then do what it takes to rally the team to support without disclosing any details about their condition.
Remember, a person’s medical history is protected information and should never be shared with another person, at work. Instead, be an advocate for pulling together resources to ensure they come back to a stress free environment they can succeed in.
Take care of yourself
It is critical that you step back and take care of yourself after a crisis. Take the rest of the day off and give yourself some self care.
Lighten your schedule for the rest of the week if possible as you’ll likely find yourself with some residual effects of the event. Your body will need to process what happened and it will use the mechanisms it typically uses to process stressors.
That can affect your sleep, your alertness and your clarity of thought up to a couple of weeks after. Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your employee.
1 in 10 people are living with a mental health diagnosis. The chance that someone on your team is impacted is high. Our stress response system has been put to the test through the Pandemic so we have reason to be at the edge of our mental health comfort zones.
That’s why it’s so important for leaders at all levels of the organization to be prepared to respond in the case of a crisis. Our employees’ health matters to us and it’s our responsibility to know what to do if someone on our team needs help.
When we’re prepared we can step up to the plate and become our employee’s advocate while we transition them to their emergency contact resources.