Guide for Assisting Colleagues in Distress

Faculty and staff play a vital role in supporting and promoting positive mental health and maintaining a healthy, caring community on campus. View a printable version of the Guide for Assisting Colleagues in Distress (PDF).


Recognize changes in behaviour

Have you noticed changes to a colleagues behaviour or uncharacteristic reactions to situations?
Early recognition can play a key role in maintaining and restoring positive mental health. Take note of the behaviours you have observed.

  • How long have you noticed the change in behavior or patterns of behavior?
  • What have I heard from the individual?
  • What is the impact of the behaviours? (i.e. negatively affecting relationships, workload, increased absences etc.)


Respond with empathy, care and concern

It can be difficult to approach a colleague you think might be experiencing challenges. Checking in with the individual with a sense of care, concern and empathy will help start the dialogue. Before initiating a conversation, consider the following:

  • Are you the right person to have the conversation?
  • Where can you have the conversation? Have you chosen a discrete and appropriate time and environment?
  • Asking for support and guidance from a supervisor, the EFAP Workplace Advice Line , your HR Partner, or colleague.

Non-judgmental and supportive language includes:

  • “I have noticed...”
  • “I am concerned...”
  • “I hear what you are saying...”
  • “How can I help you to...”

Supporting the individual is one of the most valuable things you can do. It is okay not to know all of the answers.


Refer to appropriate resources

(Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), Health Recovery/Stay at Work Services)

There are a wide range of resources available to assist faculty and staff. However, a staff or faculty member might not be aware of the services available to them or they may be hesitant to access them. Supporting them by connecting them to resources or suggesting you find them together might be helpful. An HR partner or HIAR can help you determine which resources are available to assist in managing the situation.

Non-judgmental and supportive language includes:

  • “Are you familiar with...”
  • “Can I suggest...”
  • “The U of A has some great supportive resources. We could have a look together...”

NEXT STEP – Based on your role and your relationship in the workplace, following up may look different for each person.

For individuals: After you have had a conversation with your colleague, and if you feel that it’s appropriate, ask them if they would be okay with you checking back in with them soon. Take care of your own wellbeing. All of these resources are available to assist you as well. Check in with yourself and ensure your personal and emotional needs are looked after.

For managers and supervisors: If you have observed concerning changes in behavior in individuals you manage/supervise, you have a legal duty to inquire. Reach out and say something. If you need support when preparing for this conversation, you can contact the Employee and Family Assistance Program—Workplace Advice Line or Human Resources (HR Partner or Health Promotion). Have a check-in plan with your staff member, let them know you are genuinely concerned for their welfare.

Helping Individuals at Risk (HIAR) is a confidential, centralized resource for members of the campus community to report worrisome behaviours or concerns about individuals at risk of harming themselves or others. The HIAR program receives confidential reports and helps connect individuals to supports to assist them in managing their situation. If you observe troubling behaviour and are uncertain about what to do or how to help, contact HIAR for guidance.

This guide has been created by Human Resource Services. We gratefully acknowledge the University of British Columbia for sharing the original concept and content.