Helping a Colleague in Crisis

We’re all familiar with the expression, “If you see something, say something,” and we’ve all become aware of the broad spectrum of issues to which that saying applies. But when you see a co-worker, a friend, a colleague who appears to be struggling with a mental health issue, what do you say, and to whom?

It appears that many attorneys would not look for help at work. According to’s New Partners Survey, a large number of lawyers who have made partner in the past few years are reluctant to seek help regarding their mental health within their firms. Forty percent of those who responded to the survey said they would not reach out to their organization because they would “be too concerned about the firm’s response.”

And it’s not just new partners; as a recent article at points out, firm leaders are experiencing mental health crises and are more susceptible to burnout than ever before, and rather than seek help, many are choosing to shorten their tenure as leaders.

In short, attorneys are experiencing more mental health issues than in pre-pandemic years and many are uncomfortable reaching out for help within the organization. Fortunately, peers are in a unique position to help each other.

People in crisis tend to think that they are keeping it well hidden, whether it’s burnout or depression or a substance abuse issue. But often the problem may be obvious to those who work closely with them. Still, being able to see that someone is struggling doesn’t mean that you know how to help.

If a co-worker appears overwhelmed or seems to be struggling, there are some things you can do to help:

  • Let them know. If you see signs of stress or changes in behavior or attitude, reach out to them and tell them that you’ve noticed that they seem not quite themselves.
  • Pay attention when they talk. Actively listening and giving someone your time and attention can be extremely helpful. Sometimes just being there is the best thing you can do.
  • Be reassuring. An overwhelmed person has trouble seeing solutions. You can help by reminding your colleague of what they already know: nothing lasts forever and situations do improve.
  • Share your experience. If you have gone through similar situations, share how it was for you and how you got through it.
  • Offer support options. If they’re dealing with a specific problem that’s stressing them out, see if you can find a practical solution (counseling, support groups, etc.).

It’s important to remember that you’re not there to tell them what to do or to be their therapist. Just be available, listen, and if you can, help them to de-stress. When it comes to wellness, we’re all in this together.

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