Spotting the warning signs of mental health problems in our friends and colleagues is already pretty difficult. When we’re socially distancing and working remotely, this might feel nearly impossible. But there are things we can all look out for and pick up on.

Here we consider 4 key areas in which you may notice changes in your friend or colleague, which include behaviour, emotions, thoughts/cognition and physical sensations.

1) Your colleague’s actions (i.e. behaviour)
Behaviour is often the first sign we pick up on. Your colleague might have stopped replying to your messages, or maybe you’ve noticed they aren’t keeping up with their work. A slight change in behaviour is to be expected given the adjustment to lockdown, but keep an eye out for those who don’t seem to be adjusting well. We communicate a lot about how we feel through our actions.

2) What they are feeling (i.e. emotions)
An obvious sign is being aware of how your colleague is feeling. They might feel able to talk to you and share their emotions directly. If they do, take your time to listen without judgement and don’t try to solve the problem straight away. Being there for them in that moment will be enough. If your colleague isn’t as forth-coming, there are also more subtle changes to look out for, such as your colleague appearing quieter or more irritable than usual.

3) How they are thinking (i.e. cognition)
Mental health problems often affect the way we think. If your colleague is struggling, they might be more preoccupied by their thoughts, experiencing “brain fog” and finding it difficult to concentrate. These are all signs you might notice during a conversation or in a meeting.

4) How they feel it in their body (i.e. physical sensations)
This is harder to tell from an outside perspective, but have they mentioned feeling more tired or run down than usual? Perhaps they’ve told you they’re having trouble sleeping? These could all be signs their mental health is taking a toll on their physical health.

Noticing these difficulties in isolation doesn’t mean your colleague has a mental health problem. Instead, it can simply encourage us to open up a conversation about mental wellbeing and check in with how they are feeling. You never know, you might be the lifeline they’ve been waiting for.