bringing in muffins after a mistake at work, my coworker talked to HR about my mental health, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworkers had to work late when I messed up — should I bring in muffins?

I’m the newest, youngest, and lowest-ranking employee at my small office. We have a big recurring deadline every three weeks, and it’s very common for most higher-ranking staff to be up fairly late the night before to meet this deadline. I am usually not very involved in the big project due to the nature of my job, but this time, I was given a very large chunk of the workload, which was exciting but proved a bit too much for me to handle so soon into my role. As such, I was late in making my deadline, which made everyone else have to stay somewhat later as a result.

What are my obligations here to make amends for this? Do I bring in muffins or donuts the next day to make up for having “taken away” some sleep from everyone? I have already apologized (politely and not excessively) to everyone as necessary and have planned to talk to my boss about what happened and what I/we can do in the future to prevent this from happening again, but I don’t know what else is normal/expected beyond this. I want to show my boss that I’m both proactive and empathetic. What should I do?

It sounds like you’ve done/are doing everything you should do: you’ve acknowledged and apologized, and you’re talking with your boss about what to do differently in the future. As long as you continue to demonstrate that you take your work seriously and you’re a conscientious and responsible colleague, that’s all you need to do! This stuff happens.

The muffins or donuts are a nice thought, but I wouldn’t do them in this situation. While the message you intend to convey would probably come through, there’s a risk of it feeling like too “fluffy” of a response to a work problem. (Also, in some offices it would read as very gendered in a way that’s not helpful to you.) And keep in mind, you didn’t wrong anyone personally. This was a work problem; you were given work that you weren’t ready for yet. You handled it, and now it’s okay to just move forward.

Read an update to this letter

2. My coworker told HR I’m having mental health issues

I tend to be a pretty depressive person and life is at an extra low point right now, in that it seems hard for me to see any way forward. I am not actively suicidal right now; I am “just existing.” I am in my 20s, working at my third dead-end full-time job out of college, but the first job at which I actually have some connections with people — overall, I like my immediate team. I have been searching for a better job, with no luck, for over a year and a half but have stayed for the income, and I hope to maintain good connections with people.

Yesterday, over Teams chat, a coworker who supervises me on some tasks and who I think would make a great reference engaged me in conversation and I ended up divulging to her that I’m not doing great, although I clearly stated that I’m not suicidal. I also mentioned that medication and therapy have not helped in the past, in response to her encouragement to try them. I don’t hide my mental health; in the past I have even shared with my team that I took (at that time) antidepressants, and I think my low moods tend to be pretty obvious. However, I am also a more private person and don’t waltz around telling everyone that I am depressed and anxious.

Today I came into work to find out that she had told HR that I was having mental health issues (she might have even said I was suicidal). I got a “check in” email from the HR director giving me the suicide hotline number and telling me about our company’s Employee Assistance Program, which offers a 24-hour hotline and therapy sessions. I had to talk to this HR director about another personal issue long ago, and she made condescending remarks to me and never followed up again. I also got a boilerplate email from someone at the EAP saying they thought I might need help. I was particularly angry at the latter because last year, when I actually did try to seek help from the EAP, I kept getting stood up by their professionals and the EAP never responded to me or tried to rectify it. I had also let HR know of this at that time.

I imagine that my colleague who reported me had good intentions, but it is beyond me as to what good she thought could come of it. She did not even tell me she was reporting me. I also suspect she may have shared this with some of our peers too. I feel angry and utterly humiliated. I had hoped to save up a little bit more money before quitting, but I have enough savings to be okay for some time if need be. However, I don’t want to quit hastily and leave with bad relations with anyone, especially because it is important to me to have good references for the future. I am not sure how to tactfully broach this with that colleague. (She works remotely so it would have to be over chat/email. I am pretty sure I would start screaming or crying if I tried to schedule a call with her.) How would you suggest I handle this situation? Ignore it? Confront her? Or should I just quit a job that I hate anyway?

You’re taking this as your coworker wronging you, but it’s much more likely that she was genuinely concerned for you, felt in over her head, and did the right thing by trying to connect you with help. She may have overreacted, but she likely doesn’t know of enough the nuance of the situation to feel she could make that determination herself.

You definitely don’t need to get into detail with HR or the EAP if you don’t want to. It’s okay to say that your coworker misunderstood the situation and you don’t need assistance but appreciate their concern. You don’t need to follow up with your coworker directly if you don’t feel you can do it calmly (and in fact, you definitely shouldn’t if that’s the case), but one option is to email or chat her saying that you think she may have gotten the wrong impression and you don’t need to be connected with resources, but appreciate her concern. (I know you might not appreciate her concern; this is about smoothing things over professionally.)

For what it’s worth, I do think that if you’re open at work about your low feelings, people will be worried about you and some of them will try to get you help. That’s a reflection of people caring about you, not anyone trying to report on you or cause you problems. I’m sorry you’re having a tough time and hope you will try treatment again (here’s a good piece on different ways to get help).

3. How can I get my work done when people interrupt me all day long?

I am an educational operations manager. I am not a traditional operations manager who manages workflow (somewhat) uninterrupted. I have teachers at my door at least 20 times a day — no joke. How am I to get anything done when staff come to visit when they are free at multiple different times a day plus satisfy my own workload but be an accessible leader? I’ve taken productivity trainings, read books, use google keep, and other platforms like I feel like all I do is at things to my task list or notebook.

You sound like a prime candidate for having office hours (set times every day/week when people know you are free for interruptions) and/or scheduling work blocks on your calendar and making it clear you’re not interruptible during those times. Ideally you’d use the same times every week so people remember it in your schedule, but if you do get interrupted then with something that isn’t urgent, you can say, “I’m in a work block right now and have to focus, so can we talk later?”

But also, if you’re literally being interrupted all day long and it’s preventing you from doing fundamental parts of your job, look at (a) whether your workload is realistic or whether this is a sign that too many things are living in one role, (b) whether there are things that don’t actually need to live with you and which you can delegate, and (c) whether you’ve empowered your staff enough to move forward without checking in with you so often.

4. I resigned and my boss is pressuring me to stay longer

I put in my two-week notice and they are pressuring me to stay longer. They do not have another resource to take on most of my work and they need time to find a contractor or temp to bring in to train. By the time they get someone in, my two weeks will be over. The reason I’m leaving is because of that workload. They recently gave me another analyst’s duties when she left but didn’t take away my existing work so I’ve been doing two full-time jobs for months. I have told my manager repeatedly that this is not sustainable and I provided her with options to help (distribute a portion to another analyst, hire a lower-level person to help out, etc.). I’ve even asked why they did not backfill the other position. The company wanted to save money.

I do like my manager and director (despite them not listening to me) and I hate to leave them in this situation, but at the same time I’ve been sounding the alarm for months. I do not have another job that I’m going to and they know this so they know I have flexibility. I don’t want to leave on bad terms, but what should I do?

Stick to your two weeks! They know you’re not going to another job, but they don’t know what other commitments you might have made for after your ending date. Say this: “I really can’t extend it — I have a bunch of commitments starting right after my ending date. But I’m documenting as much as I can and trying to leave things in good shape for the next person.” And then hold firm — you’re entitled to put any ending date on your labor that you want, two weeks notice is the professional standard for notice periods, and this is a bind of their own making.

If you were willing to stay a little longer for the right price, you could always ask for a retention bonus to do it — framed as, “I’ve made a bunch of commitments for after the 20th that would be hard to move. If you were open to a retention bonus for me moving those and staying an additional two weeks, I’d be open to talking about that. But otherwise I really do need to stick to the 20th.” (If your boss is the type to decide this is extortion rather than a reasonable business proposal, skip it and just stick to the firm refusal in the first paragraph.)

Read an update to this letter

5. Is it OK to suggest my employee apply for another job?

I’m a manager at a company that is undergoing a lot of changes. It’s basically Office Space and people are restless. I can’t promise that layoffs aren’t coming or that long overdue raises are. I respect my staffers and want to support their individual career success even if that means they find it outside our company (in some cases, I think that would be for the best). I have had private conversations saying that I understand feeling like you have to cut and run. But what if I hear of an opening at another company that I know is the kind of role one of them is looking for? Would it ever be appropriate to share a job listing with someone who works for me, or would that just seem like I’m trying to get rid of them or send the message that growth on our team is hopeless and poison the dynamic?

Send it, but include a note giving context so they’re not left to fill in the blanks on their own. For example: “You’re very valuable on our team and I don’t want to lose you, but I couldn’t see this ad and not share it with you because it’s so aligned with your interests. Obviously my hope is that you’ll stay — but I want to support you advancing in your career regardless!”

{ 726 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymouse*

    #4 Now the company gets to save even more money by not filling your position.
    Your only responsibility here is to yourself.

    1. My dear Wormwood*

      Right, if you have the kind of relationship where you can have a really frank conversation your manager, you could even point out that you’ve been flagging the issue for months and they’ve chosen to do nothing. Their lack of preparation for this is not your problem.

      Or, you could just think it whenever they next pressure you. “Not my problem anymore, Jan.”

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I don’t think I’d bother explaining things again, but simply say that I wasn’t able to do it. They didn’t bother to replace the last person who left, didn’t listen when the OP said they were overwhelmed, and didn’t listen when the OP provided multiple ways of making the situation more manageable. I don’t think they’re going to listen to the OP telling them that the current situation was 1) entirely predictable and 2) all their fault.

        Also – how long is it going to take for them to hire someone to do two positions full of work for a single salary, and train them adequately? A week or two extension isn’t going to make much difference, the OP would need to be willing to stay for months, and once they’ve caved to the pressure, I wouldn’t be surprised if the employers relaxed and didn’t worry about moving fast on the issue.

        1. anonymous73*

          This. In the words of Nancy Reagan, just say no. They are 100% clear about why she’s leaving, they’re just trying to guilt trip her into staying.

          1. Artemesia*

            THIS. They KNOW. They didn’t CARE when it was you being crushed by this workload. THE DID NOT CARE. Now it is their problem and so they care. Absolutely tell them ‘I have commitments starting after X so that won’t be possible.’ Followed by ‘That won’t be possible’ in the same exact words for every subsequent whine.

        2. EPLawyer*

          “A week or two extension isn’t going to make much difference”

          Nailed it. They aren’t going to hire a replacement in a week or two unless they have really terrible hiring practices (who knows they might). So even if OP agreed to stay a little longer the same problem will be still be there on the new date.

          OP your company has shown how they feel about you. You cannot show more loyalty to them than they show to you.

        3. Jora Malli*

          My worry is that OP agrees to stay on a few more weeks while they hire a contractor or a temp, but the company doesn’t hold up their end and asks for another extension of their resignation when that time runs out. OP, you know they haven’t listened to your warnings and concerns, you know they chose not to rehire a vacant position based on things that had nothing to do with the amount of work that needed to be done. Do you really trust that if you extend your notice period to give them time to hire your replacement, that they’ll actually do that and not keep stringing you along for as long as they can?

        1. Velocipastor*

          It’s funny because I was in this exact same situation at my old job, under an executive who used to use this phrase anytime someone brought him a problem. It was nice getting to parrot it back in my exit interview when they tried to convince me to stay.

      2. BongoFury*

        If it’s anything like my work, my manager has been begging the C-suite to replace people as they leave but they refuse because $$$. So she’s desperately trying to hold on but can’t do anything about crappy executives.

        I have no idea if OP has that same kind of boss, just saying the manager might be stuck in the middle.

        1. Cohort 1*

          And if her manager writes in, we can all reassure her that it’s perfectly OK for her to leave this sinking ship too.

    2. Poopsie*

      And another point, if the work load is so overwhelming that the OP is leaving without anything lined up because they refuse to deal with it, what’s going to happen in the possible scenario that the new person nopes out of there after realising what they have signed up for. Will they keep asking her to just stay a bit longer, and a bit longer.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      100%. I’m really sick of companies cutting labor or pay to “save money” when the top-level pay doesn’t get cut, or what should go to workers actually goes to shareholders.

      *growls like Jorts in goblin mode*

    4. The OTHER Othe*

      Right. I would not use the “I have commitments “ wording, because the current employer will try to dig into what they are and wheedle for more time, it isnt really true.

      The issue isn’t that LW has commitments, the issue is that the job is doing the work of TWO PEOPLE. The LW says they have been telling them repeatedly this is unsustainable and the boss etc has done nothing but presumably make sympathetic clucking noises and wave their arms.

      They are reaping what they sowed, they basically drove her out of this job. No kidding they don’t have a replacement lined up, who in their right minds would take this job? I would just tell them the job is not doable by one person, you told them that over and over again. They should know it’s bad enough that someone left their job without another job lined up because it was preferable to working there.

      So many employers are accustomed to behaving this way and have employees suck it up with a “take it or leave it” attitude; well, many employees are leaving it, and good riddance. Employers that act this way deserve to fail.

      1. Evelyn Carnahan*

        LW4 isn’t obliged to say what those commitments are, though. I do agree with you other than that. I left a very toxic job where I was doing my job and half of my incompetent boss’s job, giving two weeks notice. I was told by my grandboss that it was “professional in our field” to give 4 weeks notice. I told her that I hadn’t been treated professionally in over a year, so I didn’t think I needed to worry about her definition of professional.

    5. Speaker to Computers*

      I’d say “Sure I can stay another couple of weeks – but it’s going to be at 3x my salary. And I’m taking two weeks paid time off before I start to relax a bit. And every two weeks, the multiplier goes up.”

      Unreasonable? I don’t want to keep doing this job, none of this is _my_ emergency, if you don’t like the rate or terms, feel free to not take the offer. Y’all have done the F around part of the story, now you’re at the Find Out chapter.

      I might phrase it a bit nicer, but that’d be the summary.

    6. Suzie SW*

      “Maintaining a workload of two people has taken a real toll on my wellbeing. I’ve decided that my wellbeing can’t be deprioritized any longer.”

  2. Moira Rose*

    Re: #2: if Coworker only told HR, she did nothing wrong. I’ve been employed in large workplaces where we experienced suicides among colleagues and it was devastating. We were optionally trained on how to spot trouble signs in the workplace, and OP2 may just have pinged off one of those.

    However!!! OP2 says they wonder if Coworker also told random colleagues, and this would be beyond the pale. I think OP2 has the right to (calmly, over text) ask if Coworker disclosed OP2’s struggles with anyone on their team, and they did, then to speak with a manager to handle the fallout.

    1. Casper Lives*

      I wonder if LW2 has a concrete reason why she thinks the coworker told other people. Have coworkers approached her hinting at concern for her mental health? It’s worth a calm, non-accusatory text. This isn’t because the LW doesn’t have a reason to feel upset at the disclosure. It’s to keep a good work relationship, though you don’t have to confide in this coworker again. Hopefully her being remote prevents daily interaction.

      I understand the anxiety of worrying that everyone knows because there’s concrete proof that she told HR, who knows who else she told, how will this effect how people see LW, etc. I’ve personally benefited from therapy that helps me exit the anxiety spiral. Stepping back and realizing I don’t have enough info to know what exactly coworker said to whom.

      1. Poppyseeds*

        I think it is entirely possible that the coworker did tell someone else. Not for reasons you may think such as gossip but more along the lines of, “what do I do with this? I am really worried about OP.” The other person may have suggested HR. These things happen because not everyone is well versed in what to do in these situations. Not that they are required to be but that is usually the timeline.

    2. anonagoose*

      I’m wondering if perhaps LW2 has inferred some kind of sharing by their coworker when in fact it was just their other colleagues making reasonable assumptions based on observations. LW2 mentions having shared their use of antidepressants in the past and that their low moods are fairly obvious; I imagine their team can probably put 2 and 2 together. If that’s the case, it might be possible that LW2 has picked up the team noticing their mental state, and attributed it to their coworker spilling the beans rather than their own observable behavior. That’s just me spitballing, of course, but I know I thought I was much stealthier than I actually was when I was depressed.

      1. BethDH*

        Yes, I had a coworker who was totally surprised that people had noticed her anxiety. In part I think she didn’t realize other people noticed her or cared about her. It sounds like OP has close colleagues for the first time and may not realize that that means that they notice and care.
        And if the colleagues have been noticing that for a while, OP disclosing it explicitly to one may have made that colleague feel like OP was ready for help.

        1. quill*

          Niether depression nor anxiety makes you a good judge of other people’s reactions to you. Especially if you think you’re hiding it.

          1. Maseca*

            This is such an important point, quill. I have a close relative with serious depression and anxiety and I’ve seen how readily their brain chemistry/conditions can cause them to hone in on the worst or most damaging interpretation of an interaction that others would likely see as utterly unremarkable or inconsequential. Anxiety and depression can magnify misunderstandings and minor frustrations into matters of life and death. It’s easy to say “assume good intentions” when you’re on the outside or your brain chemistry isn’t adding that layer of fear and distrust. And this is something I still struggle with in trying to relate to them in a way that’s supportive but doesn’t necessarily affirm their interpretations of how they’ve been treated.

            1. quill*

              Yeah, you have to have someone on the inside (therapist? meds? reading up on psychology?) to crack open the jerkbrain and tell it that you are NOT getting disowned because you missed a text, you are NOT failing because you didn’t turn in one assignment, and you are NOT getting fired for not refilling the paper towels.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I wondered this, too. I have definitely had friends who thought they were hiding their depression and/or anxiety when actually their friends were discreetly watching them and wondering how they could ask if the depressed person needed help without the depressed friend getting scared off.

      3. Smithy*

        Absolutely this. I joined a team during COVID that had been in-person for a very long time prior and in general is a very nice and relatively social group without being boundary crossing or otherwise inappropriate.

        We recently had an internal panel interview with someone who I’d never met before, but they had known for a long time and worked with in person for years (again prior to COVID). While it was apparent to me that this candidate wasn’t very prepared and overly informal – for my colleagues who knew her more personally, one of the comments was that she was so unprepared to have appeared drunk. For me, this was someone who took the interview overly casually. But for people who knew her, the feeling was that something seemed more out of place.

        As this team gets to know the LW more over time, there will just be people who are going to be good at picking up on changes in dress, tone of voice, manner. This is part of why some people do keep their personal and social lives closer to the vest.

      4. Anonsy*

        I agree with this. In part because I have been both that person who thought I was passing, and because I’ve been on the other side asking if people are okay. I think as mental health has begun to become less stigmatized, we feel like we can address it more. Also as anyone who has had mental health issues, it’s understandable to notice and remember our own journeys there.

        FWIW, if someone I knew even just slightly as a coworker had to call out the fact they’re not suicidal, I’d be immediately more concerned. As someone who’s been down the suicide path and thankfully walked my way back out of it, the fact someone’s calling it out is more of a red flag to me than someone who isn’t.

        1. anonagoose*

          Yes, I agree. I also went down the suicide path and was fortunate enough to access treatment and get better. I know that being able to differentiate between actively suicidal and not is important, and that recognizing when one is in the latter state is a victory in itself; that there are many people who will probably live with some form of suicidal ideation forever. I also don’t think that it’s unreasonable for a layperson with whom you are not well acquainted to hear that distinction being made and become concerned, then flag that issue for people who have more resources to address it. Both things can be true at once!

        2. Lenora Rose*

          One of my friends has severe depression among other things (And they’re not the only one of my friends that do, so even if you could ID me, you could only make an educated guess which one.) The days they go out of their way to say “I am not suicidal right now” it always means “Do not call the Crisis Centre today, or offer to drive me there, or come sit at my house to make sure I’m not alone with an opportunity, but I am NOT doing well and I am waving for help/support before I get there.”

      5. Evelyn Carnahan*

        A similar thing happened with a former colleague of mine. I could tell from her twitter and instagram activity that she was not doing well, and so could other people. At least 5 current and former coworkers reached out to her offering help and resources. She interpreted this as an attack or a conspiracy against her, when really it was just very clear that she was spiraling badly.

    3. jasmine*

      I don’t think I can agree with this. This person “clearly stated that I’m not suicidal” to their coworker. If someone is not a risk to themselves or others, making a decision on their behalf that they need to get help is not OK. It’s OK to suggest to them directly that they could get help, but telling HR about it crosses a line – it violates the person’s privacy and autonomy.

      Also, HR represents corporate management, and if they find out that if an employee is “not engaged” with their job, that employee may be at increased risk of losing their job, which could make whatever problems they have much worse.

      1. Observer*

        The thing is that for a lot of people, being told “I’m depressed, but don’t worry I’m not suicidal” does not mean that the person is actually not any danger to themselves. It doesn’t mean that they ARE a danger to themselves, but it is a legitimate thing to worry about.

        The coworker didn’t try to force the OP into getting help, she merely tried to connect them with resources. As Alison points out, the OP doesn’t need to make use of those resources. Given the way the information was provided, the OP could probably even just ignore the emails and have done.

        1. anonnie*

          Yes and the coworker isn’t trained in mental health assessment and was worried. It’s asking a lot of a coworker to share what the OP did and then expect them to struggle with what to do all on their own. It’s a lot to lay on someone you work with and you can’t expect them not to seek assistance, or be angry when they do ask for help.

          1. Rolly*

            Yes, if someone told me they were not suicidal, without strong prompting from me, I’d be a little worried they were suicidal or had recently been suicidal.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              This. To me, if someone mentions to me “I’m not suicidal,” it usually means, “I’ve been suicidal before so I know what that feels like, and I’m not suicidal RIGHT NOW.” I’d still worry that this person might potentially BECOME suicidal if they don’t get help to manage their depression. Granted, in this situation, I would not likely have gone to HR, but I would have offered resources to the person directly: “hey, I’m sorry to hear things are so rough. Have you considered talking to HR or going through the EAP for some assistance?”

              1. oranges*

                Me too. I have very little direct experience with depression or the nuance of its ebbs and flows. If someone starts saying “suicide”, no matter the context, I know I’m not equipped.

                As the world learns more about suicide, it’s becoming clear that shrugging, “well, they SAID they weren’t going to harm themselves” often isn’t enough.

            2. Dust Bunny*


              Also, I’ve had more than one friend/relative/acquaintance try to hide depression by insisting everything was fine, so saying you’re not suicidal would not at all convince me that you weren’t–you did just bring it up, unprompted, after all. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that you were, but since so many people seem to be upset that their friends didn’t notice they were depressed despite what they thought were hints and cues . . . how do you know? What if this is a between-the-lines hint and I miss it? I have zero training in this but I would not want to fail someone who needed help but didn’t know how to ask for it directly, even if they weren’t a close friend.

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              I went exactly here.

              I have been depressed, not suicidal. That was something I shared with my doctor when I asked for help so it was clear what level of depression we were dealing with. I didn’t tell it to coworkers, other sports parents, etc–and would have interpreted a firm “I am definitely NOT suicidal right now” from them as “Hoo boy suicidal ideation, is there someone more qualified I can punt this to?” Even moreso if the person prefaced not being suicidal with how all therapy, drugs, etc were being pre-emptively ruled out–because that sounds like telling me is what you have hit on to cope, and I don’t feel remotely qualified.

            4. biobotb*

              yeah, or there’s a strong likelihood they have been suicidal in the past and could become so again. just throwing that into a conversation with someone who doesn’t know you well ups the stakes quite a bit.

            5. JamminOnMyPlanner*

              Yeah, exactly. Someone saying, “I’ve been depressed” feels different than someone saying, “I’ve been depressed but I’m not suicidal.”

              Like the fact that they felt the need to mention it shows they’re thinking about it or have thought about it.

          2. SophiaB*

            “It’s a lot to lay on someone you work with and you can’t expect them not to seek assistance, or be angry when they do ask for help.”

            That’s the part that gets to me here – the OP has offloaded onto their colleague, but when the colleague looks for help and advice, it’s seen as a malicious action.

            I’m not sure it’s clear to the OP how difficult it can be to be someone’s confidante – as a friend, you usually get a pass to speak to a partner or to other friends without it being seen as a betrayal. By and large, people are looking to help and support each other – but we’re not all qualified to deal with things like this – we sometimes need support ourselves.

            1. Cold Fish*

              It can be really hard when at a low point to NOT take things personally, especially if things don’t go the way you expected them to. Being off balance just a little can make it feel like everybody is shooting at you with live ammo while everyone else is getting paintballs. OP needs to be a little selfish right now to protect herself. I very much relate to OP and being at a depression/anxiety low part is very overwhelming. I’m guessing that when OP is looking back at the situation later she may realize she wasn’t looking at the situation in the most objective light. But that is for a later time.

              I don’t think adding more responsibility to OP by saying she has to try and emotionally manage her confidant’s feelings is helpful. OP doesn’t sound like she is in the right frame of mind to being overly solicitous or empathetic. However, I don’t think the coworker did anything wrong in going to HR for help since she did not know what to do for OP, though she shouldn’t be talking about it with other coworkers if that is happening.

              1. SophiaB*

                “I don’t think adding more responsibility to OP by saying she has to try and emotionally manage her confidant’s feelings is helpful. OP doesn’t sound like she is in the right frame of mind to being overly solicitous or empathetic.”

                The thing is though, OP has passed a burden to someone who didn’t ask for it and isn’t equipped to deal with it. It *is* the OP’s responsibility to only confide in people who she thinks will handle it the way she wants to.

                If we’re saying its not on the OP to manage the confidante’s emotions, why is it somehow the confidante’s responsibility to silently bear the weight of the OP’s (apparently significant and burdensome) challenges?

                OP would be better served here by vetting the people that she confides in. She’s very much entitled not to want support – but she’s not entitled to force unequipped colleagues to be blocked from accessing support of their own.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  This. Determining who is okay to confide which problems to what level is an important social skill. For example, the time my in-laws’ renter cornered me by the vegetable garden and unloaded about his love life? Not appropriate! I don’t care! I don’t want to feel like I have to pretend to care for 20 minutes of emotional dumping.

                  A prior time this came up, someone mentioned wanting to say to coworkers who asked “How was your weekend?” with “Well I woke up feeling suicidal. But then some friends called and invited me out, so I got up and did that.” Poster thought this would destigmatize mental illness, while most respondents felt it would alarm them in a way they were totally not ready to cope with vis a vis a work acquaintance.

          3. biobotb*

            yeah, I think the OP is downplaying (or ignoring or not realizing) how much they dumped on their coworker, who is not a close friend or family member.

        2. KateM*

          Yes, my totally untrained mind did, too, jump to the thought that “I am not actively suicidal RIGHT NOW” sounds like having a suicide helpline number nearby would be a good thing.

          1. Allonge*

            Yes, this is not at all reassuring. I definitely see myself asking HR what to do if someone told me that.

            1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

              +1. Would absolutely report this to HR as a huge red flag, out of concern for this coworker’s safety.

          2. Data Analyst*

            Exactly. Rightly or wrongly, I think a lot of people would hear this and just think “yikes, we’re talking suicide at work, I probably need reinforcements.”

            1. catcommander*

              Yes, this sounds like a restatement of “My ‘Not involved in human trafficking’ T-shirt has people asking asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt”

            2. Dust Bunny*

              Absolutely this.

              My friends would get it–or they would be OK asking deeper questions if they weren’t sure–but I don’t expect my coworkers to know me well enough to tell the difference.

          3. Sloanicota*

            Yes, I’m sorry, for me, choosing to suicide in any context in a work conversation would be a real warning bell, even if it was “but don’t worry, I’m not suicidal” – it’s something I would be concerned about because I’d be like, are they protesting too much, are they mentioning this for a reason, etc. I think OP thought that would be a reassuring thing to hear but I don’t think it comes across that way, even in this letter TBH.

        3. ceiswyn*

          Unfortunately, when someone who struggles with mental health issues finds that, no matter what they say, just saying anything about them results in getting unwanted emails from HR or others that are emotionally exhausting to deal with…
          The result isn’t ‘person who needs major help gets it’. The result is ‘person stops ever talking about their mental health’.

          This is not the good outcone you may assume.

          1. Viette*

            I don’t think the coworker, who felt out of her depth at this serious mental health conversation held at work and therefore went to HR for help, could reasonably be advised to do something else.

            Maybe the OP/struggling person stops talking about their mental health *at work* — but if they’re going to discuss their significant mental health issues at work with work colleagues, then the colleagues, who don’t have the context of a strong friendship, and view talking about suicidality at work as a big deal, are probably going to be surprised and concerned and reach out for help.

            1. londonedit*

              Absolutely – I might not have gone to HR but we have mental health first aiders at work and I definitely would have spoken to one of them if a colleague had mentioned depression and suicide (‘I’m not actively suicidal right now’ is still pretty terrifying to hear). There is a lot of talk in the UK at the moment about reaching out if friends seem down or not themselves – there have been some high-profile suicides here in the last few years, like Caroline Flack, and the rhetoric now is don’t just stand by, say something, you never know who you might be able to help out of an awful situation. No one wants the situation where someone takes their own life and everyone around them thinks ‘If only I’d said something, if only I’d done something to help’. With friends you might just have a quiet word, but it’s different when it’s someone at work – I definitely wouldn’t know how to handle that myself and I wouldn’t feel like I could keep the information to myself. Of course I wouldn’t go around telling everyone, but I’d try to find someone who could help.

              1. Ceiswyn*

                So if a depressed person doesn’t mention suicide, people worry that they might be thinking about suicide. If they explicitly say that they’re not thinking about suicide, people worry that they might be thinking about suicide.

                Is there any way for a depressed person to talk about their health without having to navigate unnecessary panic about suicidality?

                1. LDN Layabout*

                  Yes, they can talk about it with people who they know well and have more of a connection to beyond ‘we are nice to each other at work’ or a professional who’s been trained to assess these situations.

                2. Snow Globe*

                  Ideally, a depressed person should be speaking with someone who is trained to deal with depression; alternatively a close friend or family member. If the depressed person then says something to a colleague (in the name of de-stigmatizing mental health), they could also reassure the colleague that they have a support system in place. But telling an un-trained colleague about your depression, while also saying you aren’t in therapy right now and aren’t taking medication, that’s a lot for the colleague, who is not in a position to assess the risk and is going to want to get help navigating the situation.

                3. Amy*

                  I’ve had several friends mention depression and honestly my mind never once went to suicide. As a person untrained in mental health issues, that would just seem like a whole different ballgame.

                  Especially since many people use depression in a more casual sense. “I’m feeling a bit depressed about my career / the pandemic is really depressing.” I’d be more likely to assume it was on the lighter end. A mention of suicide in any sense would be pretty scary and shocking.

                4. BethDH*

                  One would be that they can talk about how they ARE managing it and/or why they’re confiding in me. Yes, there’s some personal disclosure there but they’re already making most of that disclosure by talking about it at all.

                  I would feel a lot less alarmed if the coworker said, “I’m really down, I’ve got people in my family / friends helping but I wanted to acknowledge that it’s probably been noticeable at work.”

                  OP’s conversation to me would feel like someone telling me they feel faint and then getting upset at the fuss if I encourage them to sit down and drink some water and say “I didn’t say I was fainting, I just said I feel faint!”

                5. Allonge*

                  Not with coworkers who otherwise are not your friends? In my experience it’s rarely the kind of relationship where the level of detail and nuance needed for this conversation is reasonable to have.

                  Just as work is not the default place to discuss major relationship issues, or serious health problems in general.

                6. Batgirl*

                  I would personally find the explicit disclaimer that someone is “not suicidal” more alarming than someone simply saying they suffer with depression.

                7. Rolly*

                  “Is there any way for a depressed person to talk about their health without having to navigate unnecessary panic about suicidality?”

                  I notice you shift from depression to suicide here. Depression does not make me think of suicide, but mentioning suicide (even in “I’m not suicidal”) sure does.

                  Please don’t mention suicide to me in anywhere close to the present tense if you can’t accept want my considering and perhaps taking some sort of action. If I’m really not allowed to take what I think is a measured reaction, then I don’t want to hear it.

                  Also, note your use of word “panic” – I do not see panic in the letter in the coworker or HR’s responses. I see a measured response. Maybe you don’t agree with their response – fine. But it’s not panic

                8. doreen*

                  “I am not actively suicidal right now” sounds to me like the person has been actively suicidal in the past. I am not a mental health professional but the client population at my job had a large percentage with mental health issues of all sorts – and in 30 years, I don’t think I had anyone spontaneously say “I’m not suicidal” who didn’t have a history of being suicidal . Someone without a history would of course say they weren’t suicidal if they were directly asked – but they wouldn’t bring it up unprompted.

                9. Anon4This*

                  “Is there any way for a depressed person to talk about their health without having to navigate unnecessary panic about suicidality?”

                  No, there’s not. Most depressed people learn pretty quickly that you can’t talk safely about it to anyone, including mental health professionals, without risking an overreaction.

                10. londonedit*

                  The problem is that you never know when it’s an ‘overreaction’ and when it isn’t – and most people would rather ‘overreact’ than end up with a tragic situation where they potentially could have tried to help someone and didn’t.

                11. SophiaB*

                  “Is there any way for a depressed person to talk about their health without having to navigate unnecessary panic about suicidality?”

                  Probably not to their co-workers who are unequipped to deal with such talk. Maybe to mental health professionals or to people who have invited the conversation, yes. But it doesn’t sound like OP’s co-worker asked for any of this – the co-worker is trying to do their best based on the info OP volunteered.

                  Not all of us are used to this kind of talk – I likely would have done the same in the co-workers place – some things are more complex than I am trained for.

                12. Dust Bunny*

                  . . . choice of audience.

                  Bottom line: Don’t share information you consider to be serious and personal with people whom you don’t consider to be serious and personal [friends]. It’s not fair to share heavy information with lighter-weight acquaintances who can’t be expected to know all the nuances. I don’t share the big details of my weird specific physical issue with coworkers because it’s already under a doctor’s care and I don’t need them trying to help.

                  I know this sounds like more emotional work to someone who is already struggling with depression. I also suspect that at least a few of the not-close friends who have shared with me that they had been suicidal at some point/recently did so because it felt weirdly safer than sharing it with someone who was close enough and invested enough that they might attempt a serious intervention. Sort of letting off some pressure but with less risk of having to act on it before they felt ready. (I was in college and, yes, I told a student advisor since they did have some training in how to begin to approach this.) We also hear all the time that people ask for help without specifically asking for help and then agonize that nobody noticed, so a lot of people are going to want to err on the side of helping.

                13. Margaretmary*

                  I think most people would be less likely to think suicide if the person didn’t mention it than if they did. Especially if they said other things that indicated their depression was on the milder side (that’s really badly phrased, I know) or that they had it largely under control. I definitely think, “I’m feeling really down lately, but don’t worry, I’m not suicidal” would raise red flags that “I’m feeling really down lately” wouldn’t. I don’t think most people would even assume clinical depression if somebody said the latter. Especially if were followed by something like “ah, I just feel a bit stuck in a rut” or “I’m hoping things improve soon” or “at least I’m doing X fun thing at the weekend.” Not to say people who are feeling depressed should feel obliged to play it down so people don’t worry, just that if any of those things are true, saying them would likely be reassuring.

                14. The OTHER Othe*

                  Well, for starters I would have this discussion with friends and family I knew well, not acquaintances at work. Next would be not to mention suicide in the conversation.

                  I’ve had plenty of discussions about depression (my own and other’s) with people and there have never been alarm bells as in this case because those two main guidelines were followed.

                  For that matter, why is it that raising an alarm is such a bad thing? Is it so terrible that someone not at risk is approached with offers of help, compared to someone needing help thinking no one cares and harming themselves?

                15. Pescadero*

                  “Is there any way for a depressed person to talk about their health without having to navigate unnecessary panic about suicidality?”

                  With co-workers who are not intimate friends? No, absolutely not.

                16. unaccountably*

                  At work, with co-workers who probably don’t know you well and aren’t trained in mental health intervention? No, there is not, and there probably shouldn’t be. That is simply not an appropriate thing to put on the shoulders of other people who are just trying to get through their day, who might have mental health issues of their own, and who don’t know how to intervene without risking making things worse.

                  Look, I get it. I have medication-resistant major depression and sometimes I can’t even get out of bed. But even at my worst I’ve never discussed suicide with my co-workers because they are not my therapist and I know better than to have the same expectations of them that I have from mental health professionals. When you discuss suicide with people, they in fact tend to panic. If you don’t want to navigate that panic, don’t mention suicide in contexts where it would put an unfair and inappropriate burden on people who will, understandably, not want to bear that burden with no guidance.

                17. Lenora Rose*

                  Like everyone else said: It very much depends who they are talking to, and it’s very much about the specific word “suicide” not about general mental health discussion. I’d like to think I can handle “Oh, this gave me a panic attack” or “It was hard to even get out of bed” discussions with a bit of calm and support.

                  But I react very differently even to different close friends with occasionally suicidal depression if the word comes up, and that’s when I know how much of a red flag the word is or isn’t.

                  With a coworker I felt positively towards but hadn’t had any intimate discussions with before I would encourage them towards help, and if they refused all forms, take that as a worse sign, not a better. At which point I AM saying / doing something (ideally to a workplace crisis line if such exists, not to HR, but different workplaces have different options). This is not due to “unnecessary panic” but because I don’t have the experience to know whether their “I am not suicidal right now” is a full blown red-alert panic button, a heads-up button, or Tuesday.

            2. Jean*

              This. Don’t dump on me about your issues and then act outraged that I felt it was actionable. Talk to your therapist about your mental health struggles, not your coworkers. It’s not their business unless you make it their business by talking to them about it.

              1. tessa*

                Yes, this. I once had a co-worker say to me “If I have to stay in this job one more day, I’m going to kill myself.” She was very emotional at work anyway, and would openly cry in front of everyone at the drop of a hat.

                So I quietly told someone in a leadership role about her comment. I don’t know what happened after that, but it is unfair to lay a heavy comment like that on a co-worker and expect co-worker to keep quiet about it. That just isn’t how it works.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            As someone who went through depression at work and got precious help from the occupational health doctor I saw,

            And as someone who wouldn’t be able to forgive herself for not doing anything if OP spoke to me about mental health issues and later had a total meltdown at work, or worse, I’d like to know precisely what one can do when a colleague shares something like this and I don’t have the resources to help them.

            1. Former Gifted Kid*

              I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety at work. I also don’t think I’ve ever worked at a company with a competent enough HR department that talking to them wouldn’t make it worse.

              I am by no means an expert, but I think the best thing you can do is listen and encourage them to seek help on their own. I have been actively suicidal. Someone I am not close with telling me about a suicide hotline or work EAP absolutely would not have helped. When I was at my lowest point the only thing that helped was my partner taking me to the hospital. When I was low, but not at the bottom, it was close friends that noticed and said they were worried about me that helped.

              I understand that I am lucky that I have a support system, so this advice might not apply to broadly. I know you want to do something, but if you don’t have the resources to help them, then you don’t have the resources to help them.

              P.S. I am doing great now. It’s been three years since I was hospitalized. I found the right treatment for me, finally. If anyone reading this is struggling with depression, just know, this isn’t forever. It absolutely sucks that you have to try what feels like a million medications/ doctors/ regimes/ practices/ whatever, but when you finally find what works for you it will all be worth it.

              1. Observer*

                I am by no means an expert, but I think the best thing you can do is listen and encourage them to seek help on their own

                Well, the coworker tried that, but the OP said that they had had an unsuccessful experience in the past, so weren’t going to try. At that point, what do you do?

                People get blasted All. The. Time. for being uncaring, for lack of connection, for not reaching out. Calling a person “disrespectful” (as the commenter at the top of this sub-thread did) because they did not want to ignore that someone was obviously in pain is just unreasonable.

            2. logicbutton*

              It sounds like what’s bothering LW the most is being outed to people they didn’t choose to confide in – the coworker could have asked HR for guidance and resources confidentially and then passed them on to LW herself.

              1. Observer*

                It’s not necessarily so simple. And it’s definitely realistic.

                I’d be willing to be that the coworker was scared by the conversation and went to HR for advice who said “Thanks. Leave it with us now.”

                1. logicbutton*

                  Coworker could have asked for resources without sharing LW’s name. Sure, it’s possible that HR wouldn’t agree to help without getting the name (which would be bad and kind of nonsensical, to be clear), but if that happened, coworker could have ended the call and reached out to LW again and explained what happened, with encouragement to call HR themself, or she could have reached out to a different HR rep and asked for resources again without mentioning that it was for someone else.

                  It’s understandable that coworker may not have thought to do this in the moment! I’m also not suggesting that these ideas are absolutely foolproof. But since we’re talking about what coworker’s options might have been beyond doing nothing and doing what she did do, well, those are some options.

                2. Observer*

                  @logicbutton, you’re harping on the CW asking for resources. But that’s just not a realistic nor reasonable expectation.

                  And based on what the OP describes, it’s not even a really useful suggestion.

          3. justabot*

            I also fear this is the case. It almost seems like maybe there should be a way for a concerned coworker to confidentially contact EAP type services who could confidentially touch base with the employee and the whole thing could be confidential. I could see how alerting HR and then having them involved could escalate stress for an already depressed and anxious person.

            The problem with some HR departments is that the goal is to protect the company and unfortunately HR involved with someone’s mental health struggles can end up being used against the employee later. I don’t know the answers. The concerned employee likely felt like this was out of their scope and went to the appropriate place for guidance in the structure that currently exists.

            1. Ceiswyn*

              I don’t know the answers either; I’m concerned by the general attitude that this IS the answer and there isn’t even a question :/

              1. anonagoose*

                I think the problem is that, since mental health is such a thorny topic and hard to do justice to in mental health-specific circles, much less in other professions, the only real solution here is an overhaul of the structures in place at the letter writer’s office. Which is obviously not an immediate answer, or helpful advice more broadly. But I think that the going to HR if your coworker expresses something worrying is a useful framework for people untrained in mental health care, in that it (hopefully, at a macro level) is advising them to turn towards people with a better sense of what to do and more training to handle the issue. It’s the professional equivalent of teaching teenagers to tell an adult when one of their peers seems to be having a mental health episode: it doesn’t always end well, but they are *generally* more qualified to handle it than you.

                And I say this as someone who has been in the letter writer’s position, so I’m very sympathetic to how embarrassing it is to have your mental illness made public. I just also think that there’s a reason this people feel this is the best possible set up.

                1. quill*

                  Yeah, a huge contributing factor to depression is often being in a situation that sucks. And with the way HR has responded to LW in the past, it’s pretty clear that there’s some systematic suckitude in the company.

              2. Bagpuss*

                I’m not seeing it as this being the *only* answer, more that the coworkers action was not objectively an unreasonable one, given the circumstances.

                It’s obviously a very difficult situation and one where the answer is less ‘this is right and you are wrong’ and more ‘you’re not wring to be upset, equally they weren’t wrong to act as they did’ = it’s a ‘No assholes here’ (except maybe the EAP/HR if they haven’t been helpful in the past) situation

            2. EPLawyer*

              Yeah, the problem here is NOT the coworker. OP disclosed to the coworker that caused the coworker concern. Coworker instead of just shrugging it off, acted on that concern.

              The problem is how HR seems to handle such issues. OP talks about how she went to HR and EAP before proactively and got blown off. If you aren’t going to help when someone reached out, sending out the suicide hotline and oh btw did you know we have an EAP is really comes across as CYA rather than genuinely trying to help. HR at this company SUCKS.

            3. Observer*

              I also fear this is the case. It almost seems like maybe there should be a way for a concerned coworker to confidentially contact EAP type services who could confidentially touch base with the employee and the whole thing could be confidential.

              That sounds like a nightmare. I really would NOT want someone to contact the EAP on my behalf for ANYTHING, not mental or physical health related. That’s way more intrusive than going to HR.

              The problem with some HR departments is that the goal is to protect the company and unfortunately HR involved with someone’s mental health struggles can end up being used against the employee later

              Yeah. It’s a problem when an HR department is not good at their job.

          4. Observer*

            Unfortunately, when someone who struggles with mental health issues finds that, no matter what they say, just saying anything about them results in getting unwanted emails from HR or others that are emotionally exhausting to deal with…
            The result isn’t ‘person who needs major help gets it’. The result is ‘person stops ever talking about their mental health’.

            It’s still not the fault of the person who reached out for help. The coworker was put into an untenable situation. I’m not blaming the OP, but it’s also unfair to lay blame on the person on the receiving end.

          5. biobotb*

            I mean, maybe they *shouldn’t* be dumping their mental health struggles on a coworker who does not have the resources to help them and doesn’t even know them that well.

        4. kittymommy*

          Additionally with this conversation taking place via text/chat and the colleague being remote anyway, a lot of social cues can be very easily missed. What might be picked up in person (or even via a phone conversation) is lost in these formats.

        5. Hats Are Great*

          Yep, a very dear friend of mine kept insisting he was “depressed, but not suicidal” riiiiiiight up until the moment his wife interrupted his suicide attempt and he spent more than a month in a locked ward in an in-patient psychiatric facility. — Where he got the help he needed, and was able to make permanent changes. This was 15 years ago now, and he and his wife are doing great, and he now is able to cope with the normal ups and downs of life without spiralling into that really dark place, and he actively manages his mental health with doctors and therapists.

          (Also, because people are often curious: We visited him in the locked ward every couple of days. The visitors’ area was really nice; the other patients were really nice. Being in a locked ward is boring, so a lot of the patients who were well enough for visitors were eager to chat with other people’s visitors as well as their own. We had a baby at the time, who came on visits with us, and he was the absolute hit of the ward. Every place has different rules so double-check, but the one was my friend was in allowed magazines and paperback books, and those were like gold because, again, it can be boring. We’d hit the library 25-cent rack for books and gather magazines from all our friends so we could bring a stack. I honestly think really fondly of the ward and our visits to it, because our friend was in SUCH a dark place, and within a week as an inpatient, he was doing SO much better. It was a really hard time, but I remember the ward as a sunny place suffused with hope, because it saved my friend’s life. It wasn’t particularly sunny; it’s just sunny in my memories.)

          1. Onomatopoetic*

            Yes to this! I have also visited a near friend in the locked ward and it’s really mostly a safe place, not something from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest….

          2. Bagpuss*

            Yes, a friend of mine was stating that he was depressed but not suicidal literally 10 minutes before making an attempt to take his own life.
            Fortunately the person he sent a ‘goodbye’ message to saw it immediately and was able to get help to him in time, and he is doing better now, although still struggling, but it does mean that if I had someone saying to me that they were depressed but not actively suicidal, I would be very concerned about them in a way I wouldn’t be if they simply talked about being depressed or struggling with their mental health.

        6. Curmudgeon in California*

          So, these days saying you’re depressed means that people automatically assume depressed = suicidal. So it feels like you have to clarify “I’m just depressed, not suicidally depressed.”

          When I had depression I wasn’t suicidal – that was too much effort even to think about! I just would want to sleep all the time, because then I didn’t have to deal with the dumpster fire that my life felt like. The idea of trying to commit suicide didn’t even cross my mind, because that would have been too much thought, too much activity, and way more decisive than I could handle.

          1. tessa*

            But the context here is the workplace. If LW is going to openly comment on her depression in that context, then she can expect the people within to make all kinds of assumptions and act accordingly. Who can blame them?

            “…these days saying you’re depressed means that people automatically assume depressed = suicidal.” So unnecessarily hyperbolic.

      2. Malarkey01*

        I’m apologizing upfront because I’m having trouble finding the right words to explain. Mu job and my personal experiences don’t intersect with any mental health fields where people may be more educated on the subject, but if a coworker seemed so down or off that they needed to explicitly state they weren’t suicidal to me, I would still feel very over my head with this information. One step before suicide still sounds, to me, that someone needs help.
        HR is the resource people have in the workplace to get resources or assistance with issues at work. Having a coworker in a mental health potential crisis (and again this may be my lack of education but someone saying something along the lines of things are bad but not suicidal would make me assume they may be in crisis) would be information I would not be comfortable keeping to myself at work (and in my position of leadership would feel obligated to address).

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I mean when I was in my 20s one of my colleagues started talking to me about her mental health struggles and I was completely out of my depth because this had never come up before so I didn’t know what to do. I went to my boss to ask for guidance because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with this information and fortunately my boss was able to coach me on what to say and how to direct my colleague to sources of support.

          Now I’m better informed so I know what the sources of support are for my staff but I could understand someone going to HR and feeling out out of their depth.

          1. After 33 years ...*

            I’m in a position where I’m required as a mandated reporter to notify the appropriate people about mental health related issues, not restricted to thoughts of self-harm. In some cases, it would be HR; for other people, it would be someone else. That responsibility was difficult for me at first. I tend to be somewhat private and respect others’ privacy, and I’ve had my own significant challenges with my mental health.
            I know expressing concern about someone’s mental health can be awkward, but if I saw someone who appeared to be having physical health issues, I’d have to ask if I could assist them as well.
            In Canada, there is a program offering Mental Health First Aid training to people who aren’t mental health professionals through workplaces. I’ve found it to be extremely useful in providing guidance in how to listen to people, and how to help them get the support they need.

            1. Sloanicota*

              I hope you also have a way of letting people know your requirements before they start talking. “I should tell you I’m a mandated reporter if you disclose any X or Y to me, I’m required to tell Z person.” As OP and a few others have said on this thread, unfortunately trusting HR is a crapshoot and laws are only as good as the individual’s willing to insist they be enforced.

              1. After 33 years ...*

                Yes, that’s part of the training, being able to say what must be reported, under what circumstances, and to whom.

        2. JM60*

          “HR is the resource people have in the workplace to get resources or assistance with issues at work.”

          HR is ultimately there for the good of the employer, not the employees. They can offer help to the employees when they think it benefits the employer, but they might also discriminate against an employee for health problems if they think it will be in the employer’s best interest.

          IMO, reporting someone to HR is crossing a line and might actually make things worse.

          1. Sloanicota*

            But honestly, if OP’s coworker had written in, asking what they should do in this situation, a lot of us would wonder if there was a way to connect the coworker to the EAP, and if that’s handled through HR then that’s how to do that. I certainly hope the coworker didn’t gossip to other employees and that HR is good, which is a big caveat, but the advice is rarely for an untrained person to keep it to themselves because the worse case scenario is unthinkable.

            1. Dino*

              Then the coworker could have just reminded OP about the EAP and sent over the contact info and moved on. Involving HR is the nuclear option and could risk the depressed person’s job.
              It’s really hard to access mental health care when you’re unemployed and don’t have insurance.

              1. kittymommy*

                That’s assuming the coworker, who apparently is remote, remembered about EAP or even knew where to find the info.

                I’m currently in EAP, hell I used to work in HR and I couldn’t find the info. I can guarantee you that a random coworker who hardly ever sets foot on campus wouldn’t know how to find it.

                1. Dino*

                  If that is the case, then what’s the point of having an EAP if your employees cannot access it without interacting with HR? Sounds like they don’t want you using it, but want to brag that they have it. That’s a huge problem.

                  Given OPs bad history with their EAP, sounds like a similar situation over there.

                2. Observer*

                  @Dino, you are right that it should be easier for people to access their EAP, and it should be well publicized enough that anyone can find it without asking HR. But that doesn’t change the fact that most people would probably NOT know what specific eap services the company has to deal with a situation like this. And, most people also don’t view HR as evil monsters who will discriminate against someone with mental health issues at the drop of a hat, legally or not.

                3. kittymommy*

                  @Dino, actually they send out emails quite often about it and it’s on our website, it’s just hard to find for someone who doesn’t use the website that much (I’m just an idiot). We have a lot of employees who are not on campus that much and their jobs do not require or entail being online or using the email, so they just don’t check it. It sounds like this particular HR in question may not be that good, but where else is EAP supposed to go?

              2. Dust Bunny*

                That in no way means the OP will use the EAP, though, rather than just continuing to confide in the coworker and avoiding taking any other action.

                1. JM60*

                  Then that’s on the OP for not taking action, and forcing the issue by revealing their health issue to HR can do harm.

            2. JM60*

              Recommending that an employee pursue their employer’s EAP of their own volition is very different from outing them to their employer without their consent.

              If they wish, they could also try connecting the OP to external resources that can help.

          2. Need More Sunshine*

            Any HR professional worth their salt would not discriminate against someone for a health issue – it’s literally their job to prevent discrimination based on a protected class or health status, so you’re entirely wrong there.

            There’s absolutely bad HR departments out there, just like any other department can be bad, but this is such a cynical view – helping employees DOES help the company. These things are one and the same.

            1. JM60*

              it’s literally their job to prevent discrimination based on a protected class or health status, so you’re entirely wrong there.

              I’m well aware that HR is legally supposed to not discriminate based on a protected class, which can include discrimination based on mental health issues when they constitute a disability. But just because the law says they shouldn’t doesn’t mean that they won’t.

              this is such a cynical view – helping employees DOES help the company.

              Helping employees can help the company, but not necessarily. For instance, tripling everyone’s salary is one way to help the company’s employees, but it will usually hurt the company’s bottom line more than it helps the company’s bottom line.

              Regardless, it should be up to the OP to decide if they think their company’s HR will more than likely help them. If the coworker wants to help, they can seek outside resources, or point the OP to internal resources that they can seek if they choose to do do.

          3. Reese*

            As an HR professional, it is completely offensive to say that HR might discriminate against someone in favor of the employer. One of the primary jobs of HR is to make sure that the employer ISN’T discriminating against employees for health related and many other reasons. Yes, this protects employers from the possiblity of lawsuits or other legal peril (as well as protecting company culture, promoting employee retention and lots of other things related to this) but at the same time, it is definitely in the interest of the employee as well. This prevalent misconception that the purpose of HR is to screw over employees on behalf of the employer is so off base. Yes, there are definitely dysfunctional companies or organizations where things don’t work they way they should but that isn’t limited to HR.

            1. JM60*

              You might take offense to it, but employers do illegally discriminate all too often, sometimes with the knowledge and approval of their HR department.

              I’m well aware that anti-discrimination laws generally apply to mental illness, and that will typically make it in the employer’s best interest to not discriminate, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t. It should be the OP’s decision whether or not to take that risk, not the coworker’s decision. A concerned coworker could instead utilize outside resources and/or inform the OP of internal resources she could pursue if she decides to.

          4. Leenie*

            Discriminating against someone with a health issue is the opposite of protecting the company.

            1. JM60*

              Not all HR departments will see it that way, and it should be on the OP to decide whether or not to take that risk with the HR at their employer.

              1. JD*

                Agree entirely. I think this coworker WAY overstepped. I also do not buy that this was about caring for the OP. Well, to be more accurate, I don’t know about this particular case – but I know *for sure* that in many cases, it’s not about care for the person suffering. It’s about worrying if the work will get done well and on time.

        3. Sylvan*

          I agree. It’s one thing if I ask and they say “no.” I’m not going to be too concerned that someone said “no” to a question that I raised. But if they say “I’m not suicidal” unprompted, that’s an unusually specific statement to make, and I’m going to want to consult someone who knows what they’re doing.

          Also, I did something similar to OP’s coworker in college. My friend never spoke to me again. I’m perfectly happy with that. She’s alive.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Yeah, it’s the unprompted bit that would have made me go “whoa, I am out of my depth.”

          2. ThisIsTheHill*

            100%. I’d rather have someone hate me forever & be alive than live with the survivor’s guilt that I could have done something but didn’t. A co-worker many years ago completed suicide, at the time seemingly out of nowhere – but to this day I have flashbacks to some of our last convos where, if I’d been older & wiser & more knowledgeable about mental health, I would have acted differently because he was dropping hints. Logically, I know none of it is my fault, but that experience definitely would make any mention of suicide a trigger for me to take action.

      3. MJ*

        There are laws against retaliation against an employee for mental health issues. Diagnosed conditions are covered by the ADA and require the company to make reasonable accommodations.

        1. Dino*

          That doesn’t stop employers from discriminating against people with mental illness or firing them, it just means you could try to sue once you’ve already been fired. Which is not of help to anyone who is going through a hard time since lawsuits require money and mental/emotional bandwidth, which an employee with mental illness definitely won’t have while dealing with the aftermath of getting fired.

          It’s really illuminating to see how people who have not experienced mental illness think the world is like for those of us who do.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*


              Look I am heavily medicated and in therapy and have a laundry list of diagnoses – and also I’m a certified HR professional and the person in my office this kind of thing would fall on in this scenario. I would know how to handle it better than the person who is coming to me out of concern. Is that true in every office? No. But there’s not always a good way to gauge that and people only have the resources available to them. The colleague clearly thought this was over their heads and used those available resources. If they then gossiped about it, that’s another issue, but it’s equally likely that there was already whispered concern which prompted this interaction in the first place. Going to HR was not a misstep even if it was one of two bad options.

            2. Dino*

              Because only a person who hasn’t experienced stigma and discrimination would think that “the law” protects those of us with mental illness.

              1. Observer*

                That’s not true as others with mental illness have pointed out.

                The reality is that there are bad companies, and bad HR in some otherwise not so bad companies. And I have no doubt that you have been the victim of bad companies. But that doesn’t make your experience universal at all.

                Also, as others have pointed out, most people are not all that aware of how poorly HR departments can sometimes handle this stuff. It’s a common theme in letters that come to this site, in fact. People say things like “I can’t believe that HR would act this way!” Often even about things that HR acted perfectly appropriately about, because people don’t necessarily understand how HR works.

                The bottom line is that HR is not necessarily going to be a bad starting address. And even if it is, in a particular company, it’s not a terrible indictment of the person who doesn’t know that HR is bad.

              2. Sylvan*

                I’m mentally ill and I’ve experienced stigma and discrimination, not that I should have to disclose this to disagree with you. The law, where I live, protects us.

              3. Joielle*

                Lawyer with mental illness here so I feel uniquely qualified to disagree with you! Of course, the fact that employment discrimination is illegal doesn’t mean it never happens – but HR is not trying to purposely provoke a lawsuit. It’s not unreasonable to approach HR with this kind of thing.

                Personally, I don’t talk about my mental illness at work aside from an occasional very trusted friend because I don’t expect others to understand the nuance and respond how I would like. If I needed accommodations, I would raise it as part of the ADA accommodation discussion, which has requirements designed to reduce the risk of retaliation. If I’m not looking for accommodations, I don’t know why it would need to come up as a topic of conversation. You can’t put something that heavy on someone you don’t know well and expect them to do nothing.

        2. Wants Green Things*

          And those laws only come into play if the employee can prove that they were fired for their mental health, which is a next to impossible thing to do. Pregnant women can’t even prove they were fired because of their pregnancy, you really think there’s just going to be oodles of proof laying around to find in an investigation?

      4. Tussy*

        I mean, “don’t worry, I’m not suicidal” is still going to ring alarm bells in people’s heads because suicide has now been bought into the conversation when it previously wasn’t. And depression can turn from not-suicidal to suicidal pretty quickly. Depression itself can put you at a risk to yourself and the co-worker doesn’t know enough to not know whether this kind of depression is or isn’t that. The consequences of not saying anything when you should have are far more serious than the consequences of saying something when you didn’t need to (someone dead vs someone miffed at you), erring on the side of caution is completely reasonable.

        Also, any HR team who have EAP is not going to retaliate when a person is found out to have a mental illness because that’s a recipe for a law suit.

        1. Mags*

          Plus if you have suicidal ideation (I do. I’m actually in a fairly good place right now, though!) what sounds reassuring to YOU, not always what other people hear as reassuring. Like being in a not-actively suicidal state, but wishing I was somehow just removed in a way that wouldn’t upset anyone else was like…a good 60% of my life until I found medication that helped. It wasn’t my resting state, but most people would probably have been alarmed if I’d mentioned it to them*.

          (I did need help, that wasn’t a healthy spot to be in, but it wasn’t an emergent issue. Genuinely doing way better at the moment.)

          1. LDN Layabout*

            Like being in a not-actively suicidal state, but wishing I was somehow just removed in a way that wouldn’t upset anyone else

            Also known as passive suicidal ideation, a topic covered really well by Anna Borges in ‘I a not always very attached to being alive’. It’s a topic I’ve discussed with people who do and people who haven’t experienced mental health problems and the reactions are very different. I can’t blame the LW’s coworker for contacting HR after hearing the mention of suicide.

            1. Hepzibutt Smith*

              This so much! I’ve experienced severe and chronic depression my whole life. I know my personal difference between “a lil’ down,” “bad but not suicidal,” and “very bad, no buts,” but someone else could easily be made nervous by a casual “don’t worry, SUICIDE’s not on the table.” Like, that’s how they hear it–the word suicide is inherently in all caps with alarm bells. Remember all the PSAs about how suicide jokes—even people MENTIONING suicide—can be a sign of ideation? Lots of people are low-key triggered by this word and are scared about the possibility of under-reacting to it.

              #2 just reads so deeply to me through the lens of depression. Your coworker reported on you, which is an enormous betrayal that makes you feel so out of control you might scream about it. The EAP reached out to help, but they didn’t help last time and now you can never try again. HR reached out, but they reached out wrong and since they also messed up before, it’s inevitable they’ll mess up again. You’ve tried medication and counseling, but that didn’t solve it, so you can’t try that again either. You can’t do anything to fix this, and no one else can either, but it sure does make you angry if anyone tries.

              Anyway, that’s how I feel when my depression is unmedicated and untreated, and for me it never gets better without medication (had to try many types and many dosages, over multi-year periods) and therapy (it takes time to learn the difference between feeling bad in a therapist’s office because the work is hard and sometimes ugly, and feeling bad because you’re with a bad therapist). Good luck. It’s hard when you’re stuck in a place where “hollow” is the best you can hope for.

              1. Julia*

                This is an incredibly insightful and helpful comment and I hope LW reads it. LW, the most important skill I’ve had to learn in dealing with my own bipolar depression is to recognize when distorted thinking may be clouding my reaction to a situation, and to allow myself to hear other people when they offer a different way of looking at it.

          2. TheSockMonkey*

            Just want to echo this. As someone who has been suicidal and had suicidal ideation in the past, talking about it by telling someone “I’m not currently suicidal” seems less alarming to you because your reference point for what is normal is completely off. My therapist finally was able to explain to me that I have no idea what normal really feels like.

            Side note to letter writer 2: I also found medication unhelpful when it was given to me by my primary care doctor who really didn’t listen to me. I finally saw a psychiatrist, who tried a different class of drugs with me. Up to that point I’d always been given SSRIs and now I’m on an SNRI and it’s a big difference. Find a psychiatrist. I’ve literally been in your shoes and it’s hard to know when you need help. Depression isn’t a character trait, but a disease that can be treated.

          3. ThatGirl*

            It can be hard to find that line if you don’t have experience with mental health issues. My husband is a counselor and has also struggled with depression himself, so he knows the questions to ask his clients, and I know the questions to ask him. But I only know the right questions because of him — if a random concerned but inexperienced coworker overheard the same conversation, like you said, they might be alarmed.

          4. Dust Bunny*

            I have a close friend who is in this headspace and even though I know him really well it is NOT AT ALL REASSURING.

        2. Cohort 1*

          The consequences of not saying anything when you should have are far more serious than the consequences of saying something when you didn’t need to

          Years ago I (laid back middle aged white lady) got a traffic ticket for a minor offense (merged right onto a freeway on-ramp too close to a cop merging from the left). The cop who issued the ticket was not in a good place. He was wound so tight I was really concerned that the least little thing was going to precipitate an incident. When I say “wound so tight” I mean appropriate to an intensely serious situation that might end up in an epic gun battle. I still wonder if I should have put in a call to his supervisor expressing my concern about his well being to head off a real blow-up. As far as I know the cop didn’t shoot somebody for jay walking later that day, but I think I should have called. The guy was a time bomb.

      5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I think if a colleague told me they were depressed but not suicidal, but not taking any meds or doing any therapy, and I did nothing, and they went off the rails a couple of weeks later, I’d feel terrible at not doing anything.
        It’s a delicate situation, but if there’s an EAP mechanism in place, it’s precisely to be able to deal with these situations. If HR has been properly trained to preserve confidentiality, there shouldn’t be a problem.
        Basically, if OP has told people about being depressed and taking meds and contacting EAP, they shouldn’t be surprised that people know. Letting HR know was the colleague’s only way of dealing with something that maybe freaked her out.

      6. Forrest*

        I really disagree with this, and I think it’s really important! You cannot expect that level of confidentiality from a co-worker. If you disclose health information to your manager or an HR or occupational health, they are expected to receive and keep confidential information as part of their role– they have training on it, it’s a duty, and they should also have have access to support mechanisms for dealing with confidential information which they find upsetting or difficult. An individual co-worker doesn’t have any of that, and it’s not fair to expect confidentiality. You are asking them to deal with the responsibility of assessing risk and absorbing potentially upsetting information without access to any support or training: that’s not a reasonable demand to make of someone.

        I know we are a long way away from being a society which is truly supportive of bad mental health, and I genuinely don’t know whether that would be a reasonable expectation in a society that was. This whole situation sounds shit for LW, and I feel for them. But that doesn’t mean the co-worker has done something wrong. They heard something concerning, and sought help from the people they assumed were best-placed to help. They don’t owe LW confidentiality or privacy: they are a co-worker, not someone professionally tasked with hearing disclosures of bad mental health, and they are also entitled to seek support on their own behalf. You can’t blame that individual for HR and the EAP being bad at their jobs.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, absolutely. In fact, my employer has an early intervention program that covers everything from substance abuse to mental health issues. As employees, we are *duty bound* to report to HR if we learn that one of our coworkers talks about suicide or otherwise seem to be troubled, just as we would be if someone shows up drunk or high. Duty bound as in we might get written up if we don’t report it and something happens. Ideally we’d talk with the person concerned first, though.

      7. Anonymous Again*

        I think – having been on both sides of the “Hey, maybe there’s something seriously wrong here” thing – that LW2 may indeed be appearing far worse than she realizes – so much so that even denying suicidal intentions might look like, well, she’s thinking about it seriously. She can, of course, tell HR that she doesn’t need help. If she could do it without getting very upset, she might speak to the co-worker and assure her that she doesn’t need intervention. (I don’t think doing that is important enough to go through the stress and upset LW expects when talking to the co-worker). But I think her assumption that her co-worker gossiped to everyone else might not be accurate. When I was going through rough times I sometimes did assume everyone was talking about me, and maybe sometimes they were. I also went through a long period in which I was quite certain no one realized how bad I was. I was deluding myself. As I eventually found out, people simply knew from my behaviour that something was wrong. Mostly, they didn’t know what to do about it, although management tried to provide help, but I wasn’t really hiding a thing. My “privacy” didn’t exist because I wasn’t capable of putting up a facade that provided privacy.

        1. Carlie*

          There’s also the possibility that LW2 is worse off than they themselves realize. There are depression sinks where you pass by the “no good feelings” level into “no feelings” and then don’t notice how much deeper you keep going.

          I hope the coworker didn’t talk to other colleagues about it, but going to HR was the safest and most caring route they could choose.

          1. Cmdrshpard*

            This is what I think may be happening.

            If OP has felt like they were drowning in the past, they might feel like treading water is doing pretty good. But to an outside observer they might see that OP has gone overboard and think that they need help getting back on the ship.

            I also don’t think in a workplace or any setting the goal should be wait until someone is actively suicidal to offer help, but rather offer help before someone gets to that point.

            I really feel for OP and hope things get better, but I think the coworker made a good faith effort to get them help and it wasn’t meant maliciously. HR seemed to do a decent job of not being to pushy and sharing the resources they offer.

            It may be possible that OPs current state of mind is clouding all these interactions.

            1. quill*

              Yeah, the space of “Oh, I had a feeling, that’s unusual” is not a good place to be, but it feels a lot better than feeling actively horrible. So it’s very easy to think you’re doing significantly better than you are at the time, and then to look back in hindsight and find a year that is just a papery gray blob.

          2. Lizzianna*

            Yes, I have depression (am currently medicated and in therapy and in a good place), and in hindsight, the numbness was actually worse than the bad feelings. That was the point I stopped getting out of bed, engaging with friends and family, etc. I’m really thankful people close to me were able to recognize this was happening, because I couldn’t see it from where I was at the time.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Yeah, when I was depressed the only feeling I had was anger, and that was only due to having to interact with the world that I just wanted to leave the f*** alone. Happiness was muted, sadness was muted, apathy or anger was the most I could feel.

              So glad that’s over. It sucked. I now know what to do when I start feeling that way, so I can stop the spiral. (For me a biiiig component was burnout and a toxic workplace.)

        2. birch*

          “even denying suicidal intentions might look like, well, she’s thinking about it seriously”

          This is the difference for me. There’s a massive difference between “it’s on the table but I’m deciding not right now” vs “that hasn’t even crossed my mind.” Just bringing it into conversation is shocking because it means you’ve already been explicitly thinking about it.

          1. Julia*

            I understand why people make this leap, but I think they’re mistaken to do so. I sometimes say “I’m depressed, but not suicidal or anything” to people. In my case it’s not because suicide is on the table and I’ve decided I don’t want it. It’s because I know that depression is associated with suicide in people’s minds and I want to clarify that I really have no suicidal thoughts whatsoever – that just doesn’t happen to be the kind of depression I experience.

            As I say, it’s understandable for people (particularly those who don’t have depression) to be alarmed and taken aback by the very mention of the word suicide, and it’s even more understandable in a work context. But let’s not assume that people who say this are “already explicitly thinking about” suicide.

            1. Kit*

              I also deal with depression but not suicidality – anhedonia and I have an on-again, off-again relationship of many years’ standing – but I do vet my audience before mentioning that. I’m not shy about disclosing it; a number of my friends have dealt with suicidality in various manifestations, and so clarifying my experiences is sometimes very relevant.

              But outside people who I know have the framework to understand what depression without suicidality looks like, and especially to a casual work acquaintance? Not something I’d be eager to mention because it can be so readily misunderstood. I know what I mean, but to an outside observer without the context, it can read very easily as “the lady doth protest too much.”

          2. anonagoose*

            Eh, I see where you’re coming from but it’s not entirely accurate. It’s also standard psychiatric care lingo; every time I see my psych, for example, we go through a check-in where I tell them how I feel (depressed? anxious? etc) and whether or not I am suicidal and if so, is it passive or active (do I want to simply cease to exist or do I want to kill myself? If the latter, do I have a plan?). Someone with chronic mental illness would be used to that framework, so I understand why LW2 went to it, though that of course ignores all the ways in which it fails to communicate what they actually mean to a layperson.

            This goes back to issue of thinking about mental illness as a chronic vs acute condition, and the coworker not being equipped to receive this information. LW2 shared stuff that isn’t necessarily worrisome in a vacuum, but they shared it with someone who doesn’t know them well and may not be familiar with mental health care in general. Expecting someone to know, without context, that “I’m depressed but not suicidal” is not in itself a warning sign is wishful thinking, even though that phrasing is used pretty commonly within mental health circles. Know your audience and all that.

        3. Sylvan*

          When I was going through rough times I sometimes did assume everyone was talking about me, and maybe sometimes they were. I also went through a long period in which I was quite certain no one realized how bad I was. I was deluding myself. As I eventually found out, people simply knew from my behaviour that something was wrong.

          Oh, I’m sorry you went through this. This is such a good description of something I’ve also experienced. I have two anxiety disorders; most people notice when someone around them is terrified! I’m, fortunately, doing much better now and I have more mental bandwidth to actually assess my own behavior. I’m not sure if it’s OP’s situation, but it’s something they could think about.

          1. Anonymous Again*

            I’m glad you’re doing well, and I’ve been doing fine for years. But like so many people, I only realized just how bad things had gotten after I’d improved considerably. I spent a long time telling myself that really, I was doing just fine, honestly, and trying to act that way. I still remember the psychiatrist I finally agreed to see telling me that depression has a bad effect on your thinking processes, and me thinking “Well, he’s wrong on that one! I’m thinking perfectly clearly!”. He was right.

      8. Chili pepper Attitude*

        If you told me you were depressed and not suicidal in the context and way that OP#1 describes, I would be speaking to my manager about what resources the workplaces could give a person who said that to me.

        I have had suicidal family members and people do not typically mention suicide unless they have considered it at some point. That would concern me enough that I would talk to someone because I know I am not qualified to decide on my own if my coworker needed help.

      9. L-squared*

        “Not suicidal” doesn’t mean “doesn’t need help”. I’d hope that we aren’t making “suicidal and saying so” the baseline for when can to go someone with concern about someone else’s mental well being. Its not like she tried to have her medically held at a hospital

        1. Julia*

          The baseline for seeking help *should* be higher in a professional context than in a personal/social context. People sometimes share health information with coworkers, but not every piece of health information merits the involvement of HR. I think there’s a strong argument that it was merited in this case, but without the word “suicide” in the conversation (and the lack of treatment) the argument would be weaker. Remember that there is always an intermediate option besides going to HR – encouraging the coworker to seek help herself.

      10. The Lexus Lawyer*

        Umm, what OP2 thought was “clearly stating” could easily have been interpreted as a warning sign.

        I don’t blame the colleague for escalating this to higher authority. The colleague could have saved OP2’s life, or legitimately thought she did

      11. Antilles*

        This person “clearly stated that I’m not suicidal” to their coworker.
        Putting myself in shoes of the co-worker, here’s the problem: Sometimes it’s exactly true, other times it’s actually a huge warning sign that you need immediate help.
        Which is it in this particular case? I am in no position to judge, I’m not a trained mental health professional.

        But what I do know is that if I do nothing and it turns out that you really were crying out for help…I’m going to spend a lot of time wondering why I tried to handle it on my own despite being in over my head.

        1. tessa*

          Yes. What Antilles writes is the co-worker’s “Do I say something, or don’t I?” reality. The LW forced that choice; as such, the co-worker did the right thing.

      12. Anonyone*

        I’ve been depressed, and I’ve dealt with depressed people, and saying “I’m not suicidal” falls right below “I’m suicidal” on the sentences to make people worry scoreboard.

        The vast majority of people don’t know how to respond to mental health issues, so they either do what feels like massive overstepping, or the step away completely.

      13. just another bureaucrat*

        But how many times have we seen managers say that they’ve clearly told someone that they are performing poorly, or that they need to do a thing in a certain way only for people to disregard it over and over and then upon asking “clearly” isn’t clear at all. Why would it be different with this. OP may have absolutely thought that they were clear about that and not been at all clear.

        If the coworker thought that the person was suicidal, they would clearly be in over their head as they are not trained in handling this and would need to get help from a professional. Not all people are professionally trained to judge, support, and correctly discern what to do if they believe someone is suicidal.

      14. EventPlannerGal*

        I mean, did she clearly state it like she did in this letter – “I’m not actively suicidal right now”? Because in terms of reassurance that’s up there with “the tumour isn’t actively cancerous right now” or “the police are not actively investigating you right now” or “your job is not actively in danger right now”. I appreciate that asking someone to carefully edit their wording in the midst of a depressive episode is not helpful, but realistically any talk of suicide in the workplace is going to be alarming and if you inadvertently give someone the impression that this is an immediate concern then they are going to seek help.

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          This is strongly in the realm of “Don’t worry, it’s not on fire right now.” Ok, good, but…now I’m concerned that it either was on fire in the past, is about to be on fire, is smoking so badly that it might as well be on fire, or the person who told me is in need of some kind of fire-related assistance, otherwise they wouldn’t bring it up. Either way, I’m not a firefighter, time for me to contact the fire department, because my basic-level firefighting training probably won’t cut it.

      15. I'm A Little Teapot*

        Honestly, if someone says “I’m depressed, but I’m not suicidal”, that’s going to make me more worried, not less. If you’re truly not suicidal, then why is it something that you feel you need to deny?

      16. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think a lot of the time for people who are not used to dealing with things like this, if someone specifically says “I’m not suicidal” the only word the other person will really hear is “suicidal.” It’s a big heavy word and that’s the kind of thing where the other person probably didn’t even consider it as a risk until you specifically try to tell them it’s not, and then now it’s in their head and becomes the main thing they take away from that interaction.

      17. Ana Gram*

        I’m a cop so I’ve had some mental health training but am not an expert by any means. If a colleague (not just an officer but any colleague) told me they were depressed or feeling low but weren’t actively suicidal, I’d go to my supervisor about it. I don’t have the expertise to decide if it’s an issue or not and I’d want to connect them to the right person. Not surprisingly, I’ve had colleagues attempt and complete suicide and I wouldn’t want to have missed a red flag and not done anything to help someone if I could.

      18. Lady Luck*

        Eh, I disagree. When someone shares really heavy emotions or struggles in the workplace, it can make someone else feel like they have an obligation to speak up. What if, by some chance, you found out that person did hurt themselves and you knew they were struggling but didn’t say anything? It’s a very tough position for a colleague to be in, even if there is a close friendship.

        And I say this as someone who has mental health issues and has been suicidal at times.

      19. The OTHER Othe*

        I was struck by the multiple suicide references in the letter, I found it alarming, especially the instance where LW said they were “not actively suicidal right now”. Mentioning suicide with these multiple qualifications is disturbing.

        IMO the coworker may have done the right thing, the bigger issue for the LW may be that their HR and EAR both seem to suck.

      20. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        When I was an officer in the Army, suicide prevention/awareness was a huge thing, and we got a fair amount of fairly superficial training on the matter. The training for officers and senior NCOs was a bit more nuanced, but the training for the soldier level was pretty straightforward. If a fellow soldier talks about depression and suicide, report it.

        Even if you think they’re joking, even if the mention of suicide was to say “I’m not suicidal”, err on the side of caution and bring it up to your squad leader or other leadership. The reason is pretty simple, talking about suicide is a sign of suicidal thoughts. Even if the thought is: “Am I suicidal? No, I don’t think I am”, that’s a *lot* farther down the path of suicidal thoughts that most of us ever go. Better to at least mention it to someone a little older and with a little more training, so they can, at a minimum, keep an eye out.

        I can see this being annoying or even insulting to the person who is depressed (“I *told* them I wasn’t suicidal”), but at the end of the day, most of us would probably prefer to err on the side of over-caution.

      21. a clockwork lemon*

        If you don’t want your coworkers to be concerned and alarmed about your mental health, you shouldn’t say concerning and alarming things in work-related conversations. From the coworker’s perspective, LW said something way outside the realm of normal “I’m not doing great right now but I’m working on it” disclosures and into something way outside their pay grade.

        The coworker reacted appropriately in looping in HR, if for no other reason than that it isn’t and shouldn’t be the coworker’s job to have to navigate what to do with an employee who has experienced suicidal ideation often enough to make the distinction between being actively and passively suicidal. That’s not something anyone in a supervisory role can or should be expected to manage on their own in a vacuum.

    4. Forrest*

      this would be beyond the pale

      I am not sure it would. It’s not clear whether “supervises me on some tasks” means the co-worker has formal line management responsibilities or not– if they do, that changes my answer. If this was a conversation with a line manager about health information, then yes, they had a duty to keep that information confidential. But if this is just another co-worker who is project-managing some part of their work, they don’t have a duty to keep health information confidential. It isn’t fair or reasonable to expect the same level of confidentiality that you are entitled to from managers, HR professionals and health professionals from random co-workers who don’t have access to the same levels of training or institutional support.

      1. Moira Rose*

        They may not have a legal duty the way HR does; I’d argue they have a duty rooted in common decency not to spread OP2’s business all over the office. We’re all adults here and we know better than to farm someone’s mental health confession for office gossip.

        Again, the letter said “peers,” so we’re not talking about someone going to a manager with concerns, which I wouldn’t criticize.

        If Coworker needs to process having been told everything that OP2 told her (which I totally get), the ethical choice is to talk to someone who doesn’t know OP2 (e.g. Coworker’s longtime friend, partner, therapist, etc.)

        1. biobotb*

          We don’t have evidence that the coworker spread the information all over the office. The OP thinks she *might* have mentioned it to others, but doesn’t explain why she thinks this.

          1. Moira Rose*

            Well, that’s why my top-level comment indicated that OP2 should *ask* (not assume!)

        2. Forrest*

          I think it really depends! I think it’s fair to say that anyone going, “Hey, I’ve got some juicy gossip about Karen!” needs to STFU, but, “Hey, Karen told me the other night that she’s having a really tough time at the moment, do you think there’s anything we can do to help?” is much less clearcut.

      2. Julia*

        Eh, disagree. It’s not that hard to just go to HR and otherwise keep your mouth shut among peers about people’s mental health information. This isn’t a broken bone; it’s obviously personal stuff.

    5. Anon4This*

      I don’t think many people who haven’t had to navigate mental health care realize how completely useless most of it is. There is a lack of quality mental health providers in the US, and a lack of quality behavioral health insurance. It can be impossible to find a therapist/psychiatrist at all who a) takes your insurance and b) has openings for new patients, then even if you find someone they may not be any good. Mental health care is still mostly at the stage of ‘throw something at the wall and see if it sticks’. And God forbid your issues are serious enough to warrant more intensive treatment- most public psychiatric wards are not much better than jail. They are someplace to put someone who is an active harm to themselves or others to keep them away from the means of committing harm, but there is little to no actual treatment that happens in them. Unless you are rich enough to afford a private hospital, you’re pretty screwed. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to be hospitalized has likely learned to downplay any depression or suicidal ideation they have, to avoid getting locked up again.

      I’m sure LW’s coworker had the best of intentions when contacting HR, but unless someone has already navigated the process like LW has, they won’t realize they are likely doing more harm than good.

      1. Julia*

        This has not been my experience. I have had my share of frustrations with the mental health system, but I think there’s too much pessimism about it out there (unsurprising given that those of us who use the system are often given to pessimism because of our conditions). I also think it’s not super responsible to share this excessively dim outlook when we know LW is not in treatment right now and could be reading these comments. It is hard to find a good therapist and medication that works, but it’s not “impossible” by any means.

        1. Delphine*

          I agree. I can’t tell you how much the pessimistic view of mental health treatments and the appalling way we discuss inpatient treatment influenced my little brother. It made it so much more difficult for him to get and accept help. The whole “psychiatric wards are not much better than jail” was a HUGE issue and “but there is little to no actual treatment that happens in them” turned out to be false. Still, because he went into it thinking “this is a prison for crazy people,” I don’t think he was ever able to get much out of it. And we lost that battle in the end.

          I can be just as much of a downer about the state of our mental health care system as any other person, trust me. I have that first- and second-hand experience. I lost my brother. But my god, there is such a thing as collective responsibility here. People need to do more to consider the harm they’re doing with these narratives.

      2. biobotb*

        So what should the coworker have done? Shrugged it off? It’s not like she can help the OP better than a mental health professional, even if they are all as terrible as you say.

      3. tessa*

        This sounds like anecdotal experience maquerading as data. You can’t paint the entire mental health field with one broad brush.

    6. Office Lobster DJ*

      I wonder if there a possibility the co-worker went to HR to find out how she herself could best help, maybe not even with an intention to share OP2’s name, and it snowballed from there. Not that I think she did anything wrong if she did report everything out of concern, but I don’t think hearing from HR is airtight evidence about how co-worker presented the issue or what co-worker intended to happen, necessarily.

      OP2, given your past experience with HR and the EAP, I can see why those letters felt like a real slap in the face, and my blood is boiling on your behalf.

    7. done*

      My team is dealing with a suicidal/not-suicidal coworker right now. It doesn’t help that they have a different narrative for different coworkers and alternate between what seems like depression and aggressive obliviousness. I’ve been able to compare notes with a couple of people who were surprised to hear completely different stories about attempts to help etc.
      I’m just glad I don’t supervise this person and glad there are a lot of resources they could access if they choose, but it’s stressful and frustrating for people/admin in my department who are aware of this issue.

    8. Evan*

      I disagree! HR should not be treated like school administration that’s going to be the adults when someone is in danger. They serve the company, and have limited value in helping you. If someone states they’re suicidal, then yeah. HR is better than nothing. But this person: a. Has a low mood b. Has taken medicine in the past….it’s their responsibility to manage their depression and, as evidenced by this post, sharing their health problems with their employer only hurt.

      1. Evan*

        Oh, and to OP: if you’re reading, while I agree that your health problems are yours to manage, I encourage you to get what help you can, and enroll friends/family as needed. With treatment (and sometimes a lot of experimentation), it is FAR more common to substantially improve.

    9. Bethany*

      Maybe OP2’s workplace has a few people with specialist mental health training, and they went to one of them?

      My workplace has what we call ‘mental health first aid’ contacts, who receive special training. You can go to them with any mental health concerns. I’ve done so in the past when I was worried about a colleague. It’s the same way I would have approached any other first aid trained person at my workplace if a colleague was injured. Mental health = health.

  3. Viki*

    LW 2, I would also tell HR if a coworker was telling me that they were not doing well, but “[although I ]clearly stated that I’m not suicidal”. I’m not a mental health professional, and when someone tells you they’re not suicidal–that’s not generally something that comes up, unless the person has a history that includes suicide.

    When I tell a coworker I’m not doing great, I don’t go in that detail–what is the coworker supposed to do? Unless you work in mental health/or have that training, they have no frame of reference of the right response.

    Don’t take it as a slight against you, take it as worry. And perhaps, if you’re not suicidal, but in not great time, in the future, tell your coworker, you’re in the not great time, without the added part of not suicidal. Because that will be all the coworker will focus on.

    1. Raboot*

      Yeah, that was I was thinking as I read this. If I heard a coworker go out of their way to mention that they are not suicidal, I would be genuinely very concerned about them. I think it’s very likely your coworker was coming from a place of concern, not “reporting” you as if you are doing something wrong.

      > it is beyond me as to what good she thought could come of it
      I would guess she thought it would result in pretty much what actually happened – some resources from HR including the EAP referral. I am not saying you have to do anything with those! Your previous bad experience with your HR would make me nervous too. But I don’t think the coworker would have known that.

      I’m sorry you’re not doing well and sending you good vibes.

      1. Observer*

        Very much this.

        I do think it’s worth keeping in mind that your coworker probably doesn’t realize how poor the company’s EAP is. So, what she was almost certainly hoping for was to get you connected to some help.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, this. Mentioning the word suicide, regardless of context, is going to make people worry about your state of mind.

        I’ve had moderate depression in the past (medication and therapy helped), so I know how it can mess with your head. LW, the coworker was probably just worried about you, and mentioning the EAP was really the only thing they could’ve done. Anything else would’ve been above their pay grade. Going to HR may have been a step too far, but they don’t know your history with either HR or the EAP, so I hope you can get past this soon.

      3. quill*

        Yeah. It’s worth realizing that most people trust the systems they live under until they have bad experiences with them. It sucks, because you get a lot of people harping on the Shirley principle, such as “Surely there will be an exception (to a law that endangers people’s health)” and “Surely that (law against people’s human rights) won’t pass, it can’t be constitutional” and “Surely these politicians will follow the law,” and then “Surely that corrupt official will be brought to justice.”

        Hear it enough, and it feels like people are being naieve AT you instead of just, in general, not assuming the worst of a broken system.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreeing here. If I was your coworker, what I would have heard from your statement was: “I’m struggling, but haven completely run out of supports yet.” Which would make me as a concerned but clueless with mental health issues want to try and connect you with resources to get you more support. At the organization I work for that would mean going to HR to ask how to get information about EAP resources sent to a coworker I’m worried about (and my only report would be to that one HR person, I wouldn’t be taking to anybody else).

      That particular HR person or the EAP resources may not be helpful to you, but I doubt that anybody but you personally would really be able to know and decide that.

    3. Turanga Leela*

      Right. Even in LW2’s letter, she wrote, “I am not actively suicidal right now,” which is an alarming sentence! To LW2, it probably feels like a matter-of-fact statement, because this is normal for her, but for any of us reading it, not “actively” suicidal and not suicidal “right now” sort of suggests that she might be suicidal some of the time.

      1. Ayla*

        The reality is, I’ve had bad experiences with poorly handled disclosures in the past and it’s now second nature to me to add, “I’m not suicidal and don’t have a current plan or materials for suicide” regardless of whether that is true. But if that’s even coming up, the conversation–and the situation!–have generally gone far beyond “I’m having a rough time lately” and into “crisis impending.”

        1. Elena*

          For sure. I would say you are way, way more likely to have a bad than good outcome if you disclose to someone that you are thinking about suicide. And i don’t blame people for that! It’s a scary situation, and difficult to figure out what to do, and people don’t often know how to handle it. Not to Mention that there is not really a universal answer, either, as to what would actuly be helpful. I wouldn’t put someone in that position, particularly not a coworker. It’s bad for them and it’s very very often a bad idea for the person who is feeling depressed

        2. Allonge*

          I expect that for mental health professionals or people with experience in this, that says something positive (especially if it’s true).

          For me, it’s a bit like hearing ‘right now our company is not under cyberattack’ out of the blue – it brings to mind something that is dangerous and we are generally hoping is not happening as a default. Which just goes to show that assumptions are not true, but still.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Right. This is probably total normal in therapy and probably something they ask about in that exact way. To the untrained average person out of context it sounds alarming.

        3. Carlie*

          Part of layperson training on how to notice suicidal people is getting them comfortable with talking openly about suicide and levels of ideation, so that verbiage becomes normalized. But for most people, it’s going to ring alarm bells. And as you said, being at the level where you do have to think about it is a bad place to be regardless.

      2. BethDH*

        Yes, the OP is thinking in terms of a chronic health problem that has been worse before. The colleague is hearing about it with none of that background

      3. Observer*

        but for any of us reading it, not “actively” suicidal and not suicidal “right now” sort of suggests that she might be suicidal some of the time.

        It definitely suggests it.

        1. Clisby*

          “I ended up divulging to her that I’m not doing great, although I clearly stated that I’m not suicidal. ”

          As far as I can tell, the OP never used the term “actively suicidal.”

          1. Observer*

            Clearly stating that you are suicidal whether you use the word “actively” or not absolutely suggests suicidal ideation. That’s a legitimate thing to worry about.

          2. tessa*

            But to make the leap from “not doing great” to “but not suicidal” is worrisome, nonetheless. “Not doing great but tomorrow is another day” or “Not doing great but I know there is light at the end of this tunnel” and co-worker went to HR would be overstepping, it seems. “But not suicidal” has a whole different ring.

    4. a non-moose*

      Yeah, I grew up with severe depression and I sometimes have to remind myself that I have a very different relationship to the idea of suicide than a neurotypical person. I’m not sure how to explain…it’s not that I’m comfortable with it exactly, it’s just that I’m…used to it?…or used to being aware of it? Like, if a neurotypical person were to rate their mood on a scale of 0-10, their absolute zero would be “so bad that I can’t get out of bed and I just want to sleep for as many days/weeks/months as it takes to feel better,” which would be more like a 2 on my mood scale, with “suicidal” being my 0.

      All of that is to say that I get that it might feel normal and reasonable to tell your coworker, in the context of sharing about your mental health struggles, that you’re not suicidal. But you need to remember that most people don’t even have suicide on their radar and will be extremely alarmed just hearing the word “suicidal,” even when it’s preceded by the words “definitely not.” On the other hand, if your colleague is the one who brought it up by asking if you were feeling suicidal, that implies that the content of your conversation was alarming enough to prompt the question. Either way, I think the you probably shared more than was appropriate to the relationship, and it seems like your colleague was genuinely worried about you and wanted to get you help and support. It doesn’t sound like you’re friends outside of work, so it makes sense that she reached out to work resources to get you that, and I’m sure she had no idea that your company’s EAP sucks.

      I think your best bet is to let it go and continue to act normally around her and your other colleagues. Set the tone of “nothing happened here” and most people will happily take your lead. I hope you find a new, better job soon, and I hope you find healthy, reliable ways to manage your depression. I’ll be sending all of my best stranger-on-the-internet good vibes your way.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Hmmm. Your scale is different from mine – for me, zero is “so bad that I can’t get out of bed and I just want to sleep for as many days/weeks/months as it takes to feel better,” and one is “I have enough energy to think about suicide.”. YMMV

      2. m*

        I was thinking about this too. I almost wonder if there’s a generational or cultural difference here. OP says they are in their 20s and this is the first workplace where they have felt close with colleagues. I don’t know how to put this without potentially sounding callous, but coming from a social group where mental illness is very common and widely talked about, and having struggled with suicidal ideation and other cognitive and mental issues, I would also find the OP’s statement totally fine. In my social groups it’s almost a baseline assumption that everyone you talk to has some history of substance use or self harm or disordered eating, or has been in the psych ward, or has been homeless, or has experienced serious abuse or assault, etc. But coming with that, there’s also the implicit understanding that you can have these experiences and not be in active crisis or want support. The understanding is of chronic management as opposed to acute treatment, maybe.

        All that to say, I can easily see my younger self or somebody in a similar circle to me saying something like this, especially the first time that I mentally categorized somebody at work as a “friend” instead of a colleague. We personally know that just because we’re talking about it doesn’t mean we’re in active crisis, without realizing that in many social groups you wouldn’t talk about it UNLESS you were in active crisis.

        These days, I apparently pass as very normal, but I do this by masking harder and keeping more to myself. It does mean I don’t really connect with people at work as friends very often. The types of conversations I need to be able to have with friends are not functionally ones I can have at work. Most people aren’t their full selves at work, so it is what it is.

        1. m*

          The acute/chronic distinction also partially explains why the coworker’s reaction feels like such an overreaction to OP. It’s like as if the OP told the coworker that they have an allergy to beestings and the coworker got HR to email them with bee safety information. It feels more polite to assume that if somebody has a chronic issue they are basically on top of it, and if you aren’t their close friend, your layperson idea of what might help won’t actually be useful.

          1. Rocket*

            Yes and no. I don’t think I know anyone with an allergy who wasn’t on top of it. But I’ve known plenty of people with mental heath issues that weren’t being dealt with.

            It also feels important to mention, I don’t know anyone whose allergy to bees sometimes makes them want to walk into a beehive.

          2. biobotb*

            Except the OP apparently isn’t on top of their chronic issue? Otherwise why tell the coworker they’re particularly struggling right now?

    5. Curiouser and Curiouser*

      I strongly agree. The few times in my life I’ve said to anyone “I’m not suicidal” it was because I was so close to being suicidal and was trying to reassure myself as much as anyone else. Also, I really needed help. I’m sure my own experiences are clouding my judgment on this one slightly – but if someone said that to me, I might not go to HR, but I would be trying my best to get them to seek help in any way I could without overstepping boundaries.

    6. AngelicGamer*

      I think this is debatable based on your own past history. I have been suicidal in the past, so for me to say “I’m low but not suicidal” is a good baseline. Same with another friend who did attempt but we got to her in time. I’d probably just say “well, have you tried this and you know we have an EAP, right?”. Not go to HR or my boss or anything. I’d might also keep an eye on said co-worker and maybe check in a bit more, but otherwise? Not my place to go to HR for them.

      1. Observer*

        So you are suggesting that the coworker taking it on herself to “check in on the OP more often” is somehow less intrusive and more “her place” than asking HR for advice?

        That’s a lot to ask. And it’s at least as unlikely to be helpful as asking HR for help, and quite likely to go very, very wrong.

      2. Delphine*

        I’ve been in the passive ideation/”just existing” place in the past and have also lost someone extremely close to me to suicide. It was beyond traumatizing. If a coworker said this to me I’d never want to be the only person who knows. I wouldn’t check in on them or keep an eye on them–I feel like *that’s* not my place and moreover, it’s not a responsibility I want. I would speak to HR.

    7. Software Engineer*

      I thought the same thing too. Like I’ve had conversations with my coworkers that my moving has thrown my life into chaos a bit or their kid is sick and they were up all night or living alone during the pandemic and the super lock down stages is hard etc. we’re real people and it’s ok to admit that life is messy and weird sometimes

      But… they would have to be a really close friend to get into the level of therapy and medication and how well it’s working or not and whether or not you’re suicidal. That’s probably an over share!! Is this a coworker with a close enough relationship that you have been to each other’s homes and meet each other’s partners? If it’s not that kind of coworkers who became IRL friends kind of relationship then you probably wau over shared and with the S word you probably freaked them out, a lot. It’s understandable they tried to rope in other resources because they don’t know what to do

      I’m sorry that life is hard right now though and I hope things improve

  4. Pop*

    I’m an Operations Manager and I had no idea we typically have uninterrupted workflows! I’ll be sure to tell my coworkers they’ve been doing it wrong. ;)

    1. cosmicgorilla*

      Pop, I laughed a little on the inside when I saw that bit about uninterrupted workflows. I think LW may be fantasizing about a mythical land.

      1. OP #3*

        Glad to hear it’s not just me that deals with this. I thought it was unique to education and not being in a traditional office.
        Any tips tricks?

        1. Jora Malli*

          I’m not in your field, but I have a sign on my door to tell people whether or not I’m interruptible. Would that be something you could try to get an hour or two of uninterrupted work?

          1. AnonInCanada*

            I have that too. A big sign on my door that says DO NOT DISTURB when I need quiet time/on a Zoom call/have time sensitive matters to take care of. I even printed the phrase in several foreign languages on our label printer and put them on the sign as well, in case they want to use the “no hablo ingles” excuse. I will even lock the door when I truly need quiet. You think that stops them from interrupting me? Hahahahahahaha! They’ll just bang on the door as if I have to be at their beck and call. I ignore them as best I can, but if they really get annoying, I’ll open the door, look them sternly in the eye and say “Which part of ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ did you not understand?” Then I’ll lock the door and go back to my work, and get to them when I’m done with it. Maybe that’s what OP3 needs to do as well, once they establish their available hours to everyone.

          2. Evelyn Carnahan*

            When I had an office that was more visible than my current one, I had a door hanger that said “do not disturb” on one side and “come in” on the other. It mostly helped. If I really could not be disturbed at all, like I was teaching an online class or something, I had a bigger sign that I put up at eye level saying basically “don’t even think about knocking”

    2. Bluburry*

      Haha I used to be an Ops Manager and I thought the same thing! I thought maybe since it was in crisis work it was different. Lol

    3. OP #3*

      Glad to hear it’s not just me that deals with this. I thought it was unique to education and not being in a traditional office.
      Any tips tricks?

      1. Chili pepper Attitude*

        I think If you are in education, Alison’s suggestion of office hours could be well received.

      2. linger*

        Can you give any more detail on what kind of educational institution is involved?
        If there’s a lot of adjunct instructors, each individual will have different teaching schedules, and may only be on campus at very limited times, which makes it impossible for an administrator to set and stick to fixed office hours without becoming, in practice, entirely off-limits to in-person enquiries from some arbitrary subset of the staff. (Your assumption that education is uniquely rife with distractions seems pretty well-founded under those conditions!)

        If that’s the case, the limit may need to be set more around what kinds of issues will actually be granted a face-to-face meeting, with some topics being diverted to email instead.
        Or, that you will only be available for meetings if given suitable advance notice by email. (Though that won’t work if part of your job is responding to actual emergencies in real time.)

        1. Graeme*

          Yeah, I think Linger is probably closer to the mark. Set “office hours” might just not work for certain people, but “by appointment only” and enforcing that appointments will not be accepted with less than x hours notice or in case of genuine emergency might be more suitable. And if your software allows it, get in the habit of allowing people to set appointments in your calendar and blocking off your calendar in hour blocks around those appointments when you do start to get down to work might help manage this.

      3. Mockingjay*

        Have you looked at the type of questions you get? I’d assess what kinds of problems your staff brings to you and find the common elements. For simple, repeat questions remind them of standard resources and processes, or delegate that part to a senior staffer. Sometimes checking in with the boss becomes habitual while not always necessary.

      4. lost academic*

        Office hours are ideal but that’s only part of the puzzle. Set time aside to focus on the to-do list items you really need to knock out without interruption – but since a lot of your job is handling these things that come in the door, be sensitive to when and how much time you set aside for that. See if you can enlist other people to be a frontline of defense, especially if you find that a higher percentage of things coming in your door could have been handled by another person. Ask people to email first and manage your email response periods.

        But I have to admit that the way I usually have and see this handled is by coming in early or staying late to have uninterrupted time when needed and while it’s not fair, it might be more normal.

        (In higher education I knew a lot of people who worked with the overhead lights off and the door closed like they weren’t there to deter people just “dropping by”, if that’s an option at times.)

      5. hbc*

        Depends on the nature of the interruptions. If most-to-all are actually somewhat urgent and difficult to schedule, then you pretty much have to make peace with interruptions and consider *that* your actual work. I’ve occasionally implemented a tally chart with broad categories for situations like this (in my case, assemblers having to leave their station) to see if there’s a couple of big reasons that might be addressed system-wise. Knocking the questions down from 20 to 15 a day is a win.

        If drop-ins are mostly non-urgent, then you’ve just got a figure out a way to not have to deal with them for some blocks of time. Blocked off time on your calendar to get work done, office hours, a Slack/Teams channel or email address for inquiries that you only look at and address at 9, 12, and 3. Some people are always going to charge in whenever a thought occurs, but most are really happy to know when they aren’t going to be an imposition.

      6. Nanani*

        Is there anything that people come to you for, that they don’t really NEED to come to you for?
        Like maybe in 1993 when the previous principal set up this system it made sense to come to you to check a printed copy of the master schedule, but now you could just post it on the school intranet or email it to everyone instead.
        Drop off boxes, FAQs, and eliminating friction wherever possible could help reduce interruptions.

        It will probably be more work up front and may also be met with pushback so maybe implement it at the start of the next school year rather than mid-stream.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        The fact that we both have workflows AND that I’m supposed to be managing them is news to me, I thought I was just supposed to be putting out fires and taking the accelerants away from people.

        1. OP #3*

          Glad it’s not just me! (Somewhat new to the OPs Manager role) so send the advice my way :)

    1. BethDH*

      I’m not (yet) but I’m curious. Wonder if this could be a Friday thread to hear why the fans prefer it?

    2. ferrina*

      Yep, I’ve used and found it really useful. Happy to take BethDH’s suggestion to talk more on Friday’s open thread.

  5. anonagoose*

    Re: #2, I can’t help but think that if you’re talking about mental health issues in a professional, not personal, space, and sharing openly that the two main forms of treatment haven’t worked in the past when encouraged to seek treatment, those are red flags most would consider worthy of bringing to HR’s attention! I get how on the letter writer’s end it was probably not meant as a cry for help (I also struggle with chronic mental health issues) but it’s not exactly surprising that a conversation in which the LW felt the need to clarify that they are not actively suicidal and justify not seeking treatment was interpreted as a person in serious need, and not as a person living with a long-term illness. Those statements, without the context provided by a close personal relationship, can sound a lot like someone who is very ill and resistant to getting help, or who is just making the first steps to reach out for–and both of those cases merit intervention. LW’s annoyance at their coworker is misplaced; they put that coworker in a position where they had to interpret based on a few clues whether or not this was a crisis, and the coworker erred (imo correctly) on the side of caution.

    Maybe it would be helpful, Letter Writer, to think of your coworker not as having “reported” you, as if you had done something wrong, but rather sought professional advice about a colleague from the people whose job it is to navigate this type of situation? You shared information that she did not know how to handle, so she asked HR. HR moved forward based on that conversation. That’s no betrayal or wrongdoing, that’s basically what HR is for.

    1. Rainonmyface*

      I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. As someone whose career has been disrupted, hopefully not permanently, by a coworker going to HR about my mental state, the coworker should have kept their mouth shut. If they were uncomfortable or scared and needed to consult someone with more expertise, there are resourses outside the company that will not put your coworker’s job at risk! I know I’m going to get dragged for saying this, but it’s true. The ADA is toothless and discrimination happens to people like OP and myself daily. A year ago I was a rising star. Then the company heard I was “having a hard time” and “needed a break.”. I was taken off advanced projects and assigned the entry level work the new people do. Then they heard another report, from a coworker I thought I could trust. This time it was a 3 week unpaid suspension, “for your own good.”. I eventually quit and have been doing dead end, entry level work ever since. Even a cross country move hasn’t improved my prospects. It’s like hiring managers can smell it on me that I’m damaged goods. And all because two coworkers couldn’t keep their mouths shut.
      So OP, I get it. People can suck sometimes, and when they hear about things like treatment resistant depression it makes them uncomfortable and they want to Help. Frankly, this is a good lesson in anything you tell your coworker’s, your boss can find out. I’m sorry the world has been so terrible lately. From one chronic depressive to another.

      1. Extra anon today*

        I think you make a good point about outside resources and maybe the co-worker had better options. But the question isn’t really whether the co-worker did the best possible thing – she’s not a mental health expert, we can’t expect her to know the perfect thing to do. There are possible downsides to saying something, though I hope not many companies would handle it as terribly as yours, but for all she knows, the downside to saying nothing might be far far worse.

        For what it’s worth, I’ve had a co-worker talk to me about suidical thoughts in a ‘but I’m not planning to do it right now, honest’ sort of way. They agreed to go to their doctor. I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise, but I don’t think I could have just ignored it (what if this was them trying to get help, and I just kinda expressed sympathy and shrugged it off?). As someone with no experience of mental health issues, there’s a high chance whatever I did wouldn’t have been the best thing, it would just be the best thing I could think of.

      2. JustKnope*

        “Keep their mouth shut” about what? That language feels alarming to me. We aren’t taught to keep our mouths shut when someone is potentially in crisis or needs help. I empathize with your situation and that sounds awful to have gone through, but if I knew a coworker in my workplace was struggling that badly I’d feel the need to help and it would be an overstep of our work relationship to go outside the office. HR isn’t perfect most places but this is a complex issue that unequipped people shouldn’t have to handle by themselves or decide what’s serious and what’s not on their own.

      3. allathian*

        This is why people don’t share their mental health struggles at work. What exactly did you expect your coworkers to do with the information you shared? Keep it to themselves? I’m sorry, but that’s unfair to your coworkers. You can’t share information like that and expect others to do nothing.

        I’m sorry to hear that you’re struggling and I hope that you can restart your career soon.

        1. JM60*

          They suggest that coworkers could outside resources rather than stay silent or risk discrimination.

          1. Sloanicota*

            But that’s not at all recommended; the coworkers could do far more harm than good if they go off doing outside research or trying to be valuable to someone struggling with their mental health, as untrained people who are presumably not even in that close a relationship with the person. In this case, I blame HR for handling this poorly, but I don’t really blame the coworkers.

            1. JM60*

              By outside resources, I (and I presume the other person) don’t mean teaching yourself how to be a counselor. I mean looking at organizations that provide mental health assistance.

              1. biobotb*

                But why would it be a coworker’s responsibility to find external resources for a colleague?

                1. JM60*

                  It’s not, and I never said it was. But it’s especially not the coworker’s responsibility to out the OP to the employer, and finding outside help is one alternative to it.

                  The co-worker’s options in a situation like this are:
                  1) Do nothing. (not the right option if there are enough warning signs)
                  2) Out the OP to the employer. (I’d argue this is not the right option, as it’s crossing a line in a way that may help, but risks harmful discrimination).
                  3) Inform the OP of assistance that the employer can provide, and let the OP decide whether or not to pursue it.
                  4) Seek outside help for the OP.

                  IMO, I think 1, 3, and 4 are valid options when there aren’t enough warning signs, and 3 and 4 are valid options when there are enough warning signs.

          2. Anonyone*

            So now from one load they didn’t ask for, they now have two?

            They’re co-workers. It’s not their responsibility to be trying to source mental health resources for OP. Once you start putting mh issues on co-workers, you don’t get to control what happens.

            1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

              This is where I come down, too. The co-worker now has to carry the load of (1) the disclosures she didn’t ask for, and (2) figuring out how to help the LW AND how to manage any anxiety that she might have about it herself.

            2. JM60*

              It’s not their responsibility to be trying to source mental health resources for OP.

              Nor is it the coworker’s responsibility to decide whether telling HR is more likely to do good or harm. Despite anti-discrimination laws, telling HR does risk discrimination, and it should be on the OP to decide if that risk should be worth it. But if the coworker does decide to do something, they can either inform the OP of internal resources (and let the OP decide whether or not to pursue them) or look for external resources.

          3. Annie*

            Except outside resources do not tell people to “keep their mouths shut” if they think a colleague is experiencing a mental health crisis. Quite the opposite. I have attended training about this very topic and they advised us to notify a supervisor or HR!

              1. tessa*

                It was for me (a public university). We were instructed to let HR know if we saw or heard something serious. It is perfectly reasonable, and very fair, for HR to manage from there. “…but I’m not suicidal” would be worrisome to many people, as evidenced by the comments here. I would have gone to HR, as that is the protocol in my particular work place. Since we all get the same training, those who decide to drop comments about the status of their mental health to coworkers, and insert “suicidal” within, can expect to hear from HR. Don’t want to risk hearing from HR? Then keep your comments outside of the workplace.

                1. JM60*

                  The reason why I ask if it was the employer that provided the training is because it’s in the employer’s best interest for it to be reported to HR (regardless of whether or not it’s in the employee’s best interest). So of course they’re going to train people to speak up to HR.

                2. tessa*

                  Of course they are, because HR can point employees to the right sources. The knee-jerk notion that HR exists to spy is just plain ludicrous and uselessly cynical.

                3. JM60*


                  Staffing HR is expensive, and companies don’t pay those salaries purely out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it because it’s ultimately good for the bottom line of the business. Competent HR departments will help employees when it’s in the employer’s best interest, but competent HR departments will also hurt employees when it’s good for the business and incompetent HR departments may also hurt employees when they incorrectly believe that it’s good for the business.

                  I don’t automatically assume that HR will always help or hurt an employee, but there’s sometimes a risk depending on what the issue at hand is. If it’s a health issue, then it should be up to the individual to decide whether or not to out themselves to HR.

          4. Tiger Snake*

            You mean the outside resources that EAP is meant to be able to advise on and provide help in accessing?

            LW#2 has had unfortunate experiences, and so choosing to distrust EAP is her decision to make. That doesn’t mean that other’s consulting the services that are already set up to help with those issues and provide information and those services is wrong, no matter how much LW#2 dislikes the option.

      4. Chili pepper Attitude*

        I’m so sorry, RainonmyFace that you had this experience and I know it is too common. My son confided to a coworker about his mental state and he was in a crisis and, since he lives an hour away and had been shielding us from his crisis, we had no idea.

        He did wind up hospitalized and with a better diagnosis and is doing well. He did use FMLA and his workplace knew some of it. He is still there and doing well both personally and professionally. So it is possible for workplaces To navigate mental health well and for employee reports to lead to success.

      5. Colette*


        The OP told her coworker about her mental health in an alarming way, which is a burden the coworker didn’t ask for. She took the best action open to her, and did nothing wrong. It was not the coworker’s responsibility to protect the OP’s career, possibly at the expense of her life.

        If the OP didn’t want anyone at work to know what she was struggling with, she didn’t have to share.

        1. JM60*

          “It was not the coworker’s responsibility to protect the OP’s career, possibly at the expense of her life.”

          Destroying someone’s career due to discrimination would make them more likely to end their life, not less.

          An outside source that could help without risking discrimination would be better.

            1. JM60*

              Nor is it the coworker’s responsibility to out the OP to HR, which can risk discrimination (even if such discrimination is illegal). That’s a decision that should be left to the OP. If the wants to do something, that something should either be to inform the OP of internal help that the OP can choose to pursue, or to look for external help.

              1. tessa*

                It is unfair foremost to the co-worker for the LW to burden the co-worker with concerning statements. Why is that so hard to grasp?

                1. JM60*

                  Why is that so hard to grasp?

                  That’s a bit rude, especially considering that I never said that the OP should be sharing her mental health struggles with their coworker.

                  I think it’s a bad idea to share mental health struggles with coworkers you aren’t friends with outside of work, both for their sake and yours. But that doesn’t make it okay to out the coworker to HR without their consent.

          1. Rolly*

            “Destroying someone’s career due to discrimination would make them more likely to end their life, not less”


          2. Lyra Silvertongue*

            Hey, this is kind of an awful thing to say. You’re getting very close to blaming people for other people’s suicides, which is really cruel.

            1. Sloanicota*

              That said, I do also think we should be careful talking about other people’s mental health as a “burden.” Honestly I’m starting to think there should have been a content warning on this discussion.

            2. JM60*

              On the contrary, I think it would be cruel to not point out when someone is risking doing harm to someone suffering with mental health issues.

              1. tessa*

                I don’t understand why you put the responsibility for the LW’s outcome on the coworker, especially when that person did not ask to be involved.

                It is unconscionable to expect the coworker to live with the likelihood of massive guilt for not having said anything should the LW follow through with the unthinkable because…remote possibility of HR discrimination against LW because coworker said something. That is just such a weird take on things.

                1. JM60*

                  The only responsibility I put on the coworker is for the actions (if any) they choose to do. If they do nothing, they aren’t responsible for anything. If they choose to out the OP to the employer without their consent, then they are responsible for that risk.

                2. tessa*

                  “If they [coworker] do nothing they aren’t responsible for anything.”

                  Yeah, and that’s what people like the CW say to themselves when the deed is done. “I did not do anything, and I’m not responsible.”

                  Seriously? Have you missed the comments here by those who continue to wonder if they could have and should have done more?

                3. JM60*


                  You were previously saying that I was putting responsibility on people in the coworker’s position. Guilt people might fee after inaction in cases when someone later dies by suicide is not responsibility I’m putting on them.

                  Seriously? Have you missed the comments here by those who continue to wonder if they could have and should have done more?

                  Nope. I didn’t miss them. I think they bear no responsibility for their inaction (even though they feel terribly guilty), and them taking action might not have prevented suicide anyways.

              2. Coconutty*

                Well, if someone is going to bluntly share pretty concerning information about their mental health with a co-worker, then…’s out of their hands. It’s simply not realistic or fair to expect everyone to know every tiny nuance that might possibly inform how they should react to being (unfairly, frankly) burdened with that knowledge, or to know how the person might then react to their reaction.

        2. Cheap Ass Rolex*

          Yes. OP also mentions their depressive episodes being “obvious”, and that they haven’t found a medication or therapy option that works for them yet.

          The two things it is responsible to do are: don’t ignore this, and defer to someone with expertise. That’s what coworker did.

          1. Colette*

            It doesn’t sound to me like the OP is working towards finding a solution (i.e. trying new medications, working with a therapist), which is what makes this such an alarming thing for the coworker. If the OP had said “I’m struggling with depression right now, and I’m working with my doctors to find a solution”, that wouldn’t be alarming.

            But “I’m just existing, I’m depressed, medication and therapy don’t work, and I’m not actively suicidal right now” is pretty alarming.

            I know mental health issues are difficult to treat, and that it can take a long time to find something that works – but I understand why the coworker felt like she needed to do something, because the OP’s description of the situation is pretty scary, and it doesn’t seem like she’s taking any steps to make it better (probably because she’s depressed and they don’t seem worth taking).

          2. BongoFury*

            That is the most alarming part of the story. If a coworker who is usually “down” casually mentioned there is no help for them and nothing will ever improve but don’t worry, I’m not that suicidal…I honestly would have no idea what to do?

            Would I really go find an outside resource and then tell your coworker about it? How would that conversation go?

            “Hey Eeyore, I know you said nothing will ever help but here is another therapist you could call. Or maybe a suicide hotline?”

            1. NotAManager*

              Yeah as someone who’s been adjacent to OP’s situation (similar statements about mental health, not to coworkers), depression and anxiety can skew your perspective on what sounds reassuring for other people to hear. Having frequent bouts of suicidal ideation, it feels like I’m doing *so* much better when I’m not in that headspace that what I think of as a proud banner of stability sounds like I’m doing horribly to someone who doesn’t experience what my brain defaults to on the regular.

              I really feel for OP that this outcome has added to their stress and anxiety, but I also can’t bring myself to blame Coworker or even feel like Coworker was in the wrong. They heard something that made them worry about OP and they did what they thought was helpful under the circumstances. There’s no one right answer to mental health questions.

            2. biobotb*

              Yeah, hearing someone say “I’m not suicidal” after hearing something along the lines of “I feel there’s no way forward” would not make me feel truly confident the person *isn’t* suicidal. If the OP conveyed these the no way forward sentiment to their coworker, I don’t think it was unreasonable for the coworker to not fully trust the “not suicidal” caveat.

        3. anonagoose*

          I broadly agree with you, but I’m not comfortable with referring to someone else’s mental health as a burden. That’s pretty stigmatizing. Is it difficult to deal with and sometimes upsetting? Yes. Would I outright call it a burden? Absolutely not, and I would encourage you to be more mindful of how you use that word, especially in relation to people dealing with mental health issues. There’s a subtle but meaningful distinction between “this is hard for me and I need support in order to support you/I am not in a place to provide support right now” and “your needs are a burden.”

      6. JM60*

        I’m shocked by the number of people here who are treating HR departments like they’re resources that exist solely to benefit the employees. They aren’t. Neither are they therapists. They exist solely for the benefit of the employer, sometimes to the incidental benefit of the employee, othertimes to the detriment of the employee.

        The last thing an employee with mental health issues needs is workplace discrimination because of said issues. If you think someone needs help, look for outside help.

        1. Jack*

          You have a very odd view of HR. Yes, it exists to protect the company’s interests – but protecting the health and wellbeing of the employees is in the company’s best interest, as is not discriminating against them. And in many workplaces, they are the exact right people to talk to to connect colleagues and reports with support. It’s in the company’s interest that its employees not commit suicide, after all!

          You may have have some bad experiences personally, but I’m sure you can be smart enough not to generalise those to all workplaces.

          1. JM60*

            You have a very odd view of HR.

            My “odd” view of HR is that they ultimately exist to serve the employer, and that can either help or hurt the employees depending on what HR thinks is in the employer’s best interest.

            I’m well aware that anti-discrimination laws apply to mental illness and that, all else being equal, it’s in the employer’s best interest that their employees have good mental and physical health. But that doesn’t mean that an employer won’t discriminate, and it should be the OP’s decision whether or not to take that particular risk.

        2. Critical Rolls*

          Or don’t make it your untrained, not-especially-close coworker’s responsibility to figure out how to react to your alarming mental health disclosures!

        3. biobotb*

          If you don’t want help from work resources, don’t reach out to coworkers (without mental health training) for help.

          1. JM60*

            I think it’s usually best to not confide in coworkers out personal issues the same way you would with close friends, but just because a coworker did confide in their mental health issues to you doesn’t mean that outing them to HR is appropriate.

            1. tessa*

              It is entirely appropriate, especially when that is the protocol. You write as though every HR-related outcome will have a discriminatory bent. That might have been true for you, but personal experience typically is not generalizable.

              1. JM60*

                I think your reasoning about it being protocol is backwards. It’s protocol because it’s in the employer’s best interest, not because it’s in the employee’s best interest. It can often be in the employee’s best interest if HR believes it’s in the company’s best interest to help the employee (or if they are ethical enough to help the employee even if they think it isn’t), but there’s a risk that it won’t be.

                You write as though every HR-related outcome will have a discriminatory bent.

                I write as though it’s a risk, and it should be on the individual to decide whether or not to take that risk, not on others to take that risk for you.

                That might have been true for you, but personal experience typically is not generalizable.

                FWIW, I haven’t been in the OP’s situation before. But at least one or two people here in the comments have reported discrimination from an HR department due to mental health issues.

                1. tessa*

                  A sample of “one or two” isn’t generalizable. I simply don’t understand your cynicism about HR when it is based on anecdote.

                  Besides, how about the LW not saying “depressed and nothing works but hey, not suicidal” to CW? Come on.

            2. Coconutty*

              It’s completely appropriate. It’s not generally within a colleague’s responsibility or RESOURCES to do otherwise. If they happen to have a suggestion of a different resource, that’s terrific. If they don’t and they’re concerned about the person, it is eminently reasonable for them to seek out a resource at work that might help. If it doesn’t end up helping, or even ends up hurting, that’s awful — but it’s not the colleague’s fault.

              1. JM60*

                If they don’t and they’re concerned about the person, it is eminently reasonable for them to seek out a resource at work that might help

                If by “seek out a resource at work that might help” you mean to see what resources their workplace has and suggest it to the OP of their volition, that’s eminently reasonable. On the other hand, if you mean to out the OP and risk discrimination, that’s not eminently reasonable.

                1. tessa*

                  And how would the CW measure which resources to select on the LW’s behalf? What makes the CW an expert?

                  And how many employees are discriminated against each year over the status of their mental health?

      7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s not fair to talk to someone about heavy-duty problems and expect them to keep their mouths shut.
        There was a case here recently where someone knew more than they wanted to know about their colleague’s health (I think he’d said he had terminal cancer) and commenters were unanimous that it was unfair to load that info off on OP.
        If you don’t want help in any form, you have to keep quiet about your problems.
        Personally I have been depressed twice in my life and each time the occupational health doctor has helped me enormously.

      8. L-squared*

        I’m sorry you had this happen. But this (much like the purse letter from earlier this week) is an example of you displacing your anger at the wrong people. If you were talking to your coworker about your mental state, and whatever said was enough to have these things happen, its not on the coworker for reporting it. Either its MUCH worse than you are letting yourself believe, or it was still bad enough to not share with a coworker in the first place and put them in a position where they felt that they had to report it.

        And frankly, if you moved cross country and are having the same issues, to still be blaming it on the coworker is a bit ridiculous. If you feel that people can “smell it on you”, maybe you are just presenting very different than you think you are. Which, again, means that this isn’t on the coworker.

      9. Bagpuss*

        I’m sorry that you had that experience, however, I don’t think that LW’s coworker was wrong to raise their concerns. The LW made disclosures to her coworker, in work and the coworker (entirely reasonably) felt unable to deal with the issue directly and raised it with HR . The problem is with the way that HR / the employer then reacted, not with the fact that the coworker raised her concerns.
        It’s both unfair, and unrealistic, to tell a coworker something of that kind and expect them to carry the responsibility to trying to work out whether you are at risk of harming yourself, and also to second guess what your preference should be as to how they should handle that disclosure.
        There may be resources outside the company but it is not a coworker’s responsibility to find those resources, and of course those resources are presumably also available to be contacted directly, rather than unloading onto a coworker and expecting them to carry the responsibility to finding / accessing those resources, or guessing that they should do so.
        Also, if they are genuinely concerned because of the disclosures made, then speaking to HR is probably the most immediate way to get help. Even if they had spoken to someone outside the company it’s difficult to see what that person could have done, if they were being contacted by the coworker, not the person suffering with their mental health.

      10. anonagoose*

        I’m very sorry that happened to you. However, as someone who has both dealt with long-term, chronic depression and been a support person for people with the same, I disagree that the onus should be on coworkers to know how to handle disclosures of upsetting, *potentially life-threatening* mental illnesses. Expecting an untrained coworker to try and intuit how serious this issue was and what kind of assistance the person suffering would most like (and to locate options unaffiliated with work) is wildly unfair, and sets up a system where someone will eventually fail to get someone help who desperately, immediately needs it.

        1. quill*

          Expecting a coworker to magically know which companies will be discriminatory and which outside sources are trustworthy is also a huge leap. The reason companies get away with health related discrimination is that the process is not obvious to those they aren’t discriminating against.

      11. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        I’m sorry, but no – You don’t get to dictate that someone else expend their self handling your mental illnesses in the way you would prefer, unless they have affirmatively and explicitly taken on that responsibility. You have no way of accurately judging if that person even fully understands what you are asking of them, let alone if they are prepared or have ready access to the tools to manage what you are asking of them.

        I was the person someone talked to. “I’m not suicidal” was never said, but “you listening gets me through the day” was. I was a inexperienced teen, and I had no idea what this adult was going through – but I didn’t want to tell any of our coworkers about what they confided in me, because I figured ‘it’s personal, and that would be breaching their trust” so I never did. I went on a two week hiking vacation, and they killed themselves during it – their spouse came into our workplace to scream at me because the note called out my being unreachable as one final example of a world that didn’t care. My boss fired me, because I hadn’t said anything, and maybe if I had, a life would have been saved – it was a judgment lapse that the company and coworkers were never going to be able to forgive me for.

        So… no. The idea that someone should keep those sorts of struggles to their self rings very hollow to me. If you are struggling with depression or another mental illness, and you want to control when and if someone else discusses it, you need to get that buy in from an informed and consenting person. Your coworkers are almost certainly not those people.

        1. Squid*

          I just want to say that I am so sorry you went through that, and thank you for sharing your experience.

        2. Heather*

          I really hope everyone reads this! I’m so sorry you went through this, but thank you for sharing.

        3. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

          I am so sorry you went through this. That was incredibly unfair to you, especially as a teen.

          I commented something similar below. At my office, we had a colleague commit suicide in the workplace. Now, there is no way any of my coworkers would EVER keep quiet if another coworker told them something like, “I’m not actively suicidal right at this very moment.”

        4. Mauvaise Pomme*

          I am so sorry for what you went through. It was completely inappropriate for anyone to make you feel responsible for the tragedy that occurred. Even if you’d been an adult, this wouldn’t have been your fault, but a kid being asked to provide this level of emotional support is beyond inappropriate, and I’m horrified your company was happy to scapegoat a teen for what happened.

        5. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          I just wanted to say that I appreciate everyone’s responses. It took me a few years and a lot of therapy work to figure out that I wasn’t responsible for what happened, but also that not being responsible didn’t mean I had made the best choices available to me in those moments.

          I think that’s the takeaway I’d like to see people, including OP2 and Rainonmyface realize – reporting to HR may not have been the coworker’s best choice in the moment, but it probably did seem like a better choice to the coworker than doing nothing. Faced with a situation they almost certainly weren’t prepared to deal with, and looking at their options, they tried to take one that seemed like it had a potential to reduce harm – while it may not have been ideal, in that moment and time, they probably didn’t know what the best solution for you would have looked like. Even people trained and experienced in dealing with these issues can’t always tell what that would look like.

      12. bluephone*

        I need to push back on this. I’ve dealt with chronic depression that doesn’t respond well to common SSRIs and SNRIs, and I have family members who struggle with mental illness, suicide attempts (some successful, some not), etc. LW’s coworker should not have “kept their mouth shut” (WTF at that language??? Are we in the mob now??? Good lord).

        LW, your coworker was not trying to get you in trouble. I’m sorry that you’re hurting but you do need help–the fact that you’re jumping to “everyone is out to get me!” is evidence A that your depression is warping your worldview big time. It sucks that your EAP didn’t do anything for you but you can’t expect your coworker to know that. There are non-EAP resources available and you need to seek them out. Am I being blunt? Yes. I’m being blunt because this is all very much “been there, done that” territory for me and I know that all the sympathy in the world is great but LW also needs to realize that the “oh nothing works why bother” is their mental illness lying to them and it needs to be dealt with via professional help.

      13. Squid*

        I’m sorry this happened to you. I think it speaks more to poor management/HR than “my coworkers should have kept quiet,” though. Good management/HR might have checked in with you to see how you’re doing (in general, not necessarily directly referencing hearsay), ensure you have no concerns about workload or priorities, etc., and then taken you at your word when you said you were fine and happy with your current situation instead of suspending you more or less out of the blue and without substantiated evidence and documentation. From what OP is saying, it sounds like they’re the victim of poor HR and management moreso than they are the victim of a coworker who “should have kept their mouth shut,” by your estimation, and who likely had NO IDEA that previous HR and EAP intervention was poor.

      14. biobotb*

        How did your coworkers know about your mental state, though? Did you confide in them? Or did they notice from your behavior that you weren’t doing well? Also, what are these resources that you think they should have turned to instead?

    2. Data Analyst*

      Exactly! And, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the coworker quite possibly didn’t know the EAP and HR haven’t been helpful. It seems like LW is linking the two things into “they passed me off to someone who sucks” when it’s probably more like “they tried to enlist someone who would hopefully be the best equipped to help.” To me, the letter sounded like some cognitive distortion is happening – said as someone who has had some bad mental health problems, to the point of having to go on leave for intensive treatment. I’m sorry LW, I know it’s hard.

      1. ecnaseener*

        No, but the coworker does know therapy and medication haven’t worked, because LW told them. What did the coworker expect HR would do other than connect them with those same failed options?

        1. Chili pepper Attitude*

          The coworker Expected professionals to try. It can take years to find the right medications or talk therapy. The alternative is what, do nothing and hope they don’t become suicidal?

          1. ecnaseener*

            The alternative would be to ASK what LW wanted. It just stinks so much to take away people’s autonomy when it’s not an emergency.

            1. unaccountably*

              No one’s autonomy was taken away. The LW got contacted by HR about the EAP. She was free to ignore it, and apparently did.

              As far as the co-worker asking what LW wanted… I’m curious about why you think that’s an appropriate expectation to place on a co-worker, or why it would even be appropriate for a co-worker to do. OP is not a child. CW is not a mental health worker. Maybe CW was – correctly! – afraid that enmeshing herself in LW’s mental illness struggles without training or experience would result in a worse outcome than trying to recruit professionals. Maybe CW has her own struggles, with mental health or otherwise, and simply does not have the bandwidth to take on a social work type resource-finding role in a co-worker’s life.

              Sometimes there’s a big difference between the help you want and the help it’s appropriate to expect from untrained people in your life who are not in a caretaking role with you. As unfortunate as the LW’s struggles are – and I can sympathize – it’s not the CW’s job to know how to respond in exactly the correct way and take on the emotional labor of navigating community resources for someone else’s illness. It’s not fair to expect her to do anything more than what she did.

        2. Really*

          That they would be connected with people who knew how to better advise on the situation and might even have other options for OP.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            yeah, it may be that the previous therapist was not the right person for OP.
            They might also point OP to some gentle things that can help, like yoga and exercising in general (remembering my therapist telling me “whatever you do, don’t stop going to the swimming pool, the only time your eyes light up is when you mention swimming”), which might just help to keep OP in the “not suicidal” category until they come round to trying some kind of therapy.

            1. quill*

              Yoga did nothing for me for depression but the fact that it strengthened my bad muscles so that eventually I was in less pain sure did! Some things take long enough to work that Depression Brain does not stick with it.

        3. Harper the Other One*

          There are many options for medication and many forms of therapy, and options are improving all the time, so the coworker may have expected that the EAP could provide information to that effect. But equally importantly, the coworker probably thought that mental health crisis resources – like the suicide prevention hotline – would be valuable to someone in a bad mental space.

          My partner has dealt with severe depression and other mental health issues for over a decade. A hallmark of being at a low point for him is the belief that nothing will help. So if the coworker has similar experiences, personally or with a loved one, the message that “therapy and medication don’t work” is going to be viewed through that lens.

          1. Mauvaise Pomme*

            I agree with this. In my own experience, fatalism about mental healthcare being doomed to be ineffective is a manifestation of a low mental state. When you feel very, very bad, you just can’t imagine ever feeling better or anything ever helping.

        4. Sylvan*

          There are many, many types of therapy and medication. (I failed five antidepressants before finding one that helped.) Additionally, “therapy and medication are useless, nothing helps, I’ll suffer forever” is a very classically depressed thing to think.

          1. biobotb*

            Total tangent, but I bristle at the medical terminology that a person failed a treatment or medication. It failed you!!

        5. quill*

          Possibly they thought that HR could do something like argue with insurance to make a different TYPE of medication or therapy that isn’t covered available so OP could try it, or HR could find a reasonable accommodation to alleviate any specific symptom. Depression comes in several forms. Personally I would benefit greatly from being put next to a window like a plant. That’s not going to work on someone whose depression isn’t directly connected with the amount of sunlight they receive.

          There’s also things like FMLA, which it’s possible that the coworker thought would apply because they heard the word “suicide” and thought that OP might qualify for FMLA for acute, short term treatment.

    3. ceiswyn*

      And this is why people don’t share that they have mental health diagnoses at work. Because the moment someone hates about a mental health diagnosis in conversation, they think they need to bring in HR and suddenly the person is being deluged in ‘help’ they neither want or need.

      If someone shared a cancer diagnosis but mentioned they weren’t terminal, would you go to HR with that as well?

      1. Kim*

        But hearing about a mental health diagnosis is one thing, hearing “I’m not suicidal right now” is another. And I don’t think the cancer diagnosis comparison is fair, because in most cases you also hear that they are seeking treatment, something the LW in this case is not doing (which is their perogative!).

        1. JM60*

          I know that alarm bells go off in people’s heads when they hear “but I’m not suicidal”, but suppose you instead heard, “I’m going through some health issues, but it’s nothing serious”, would you be equally alarmed? I think the phasing of the latter has often m recommended here.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            “It’s nothing serious” is pretty vague and meant to not invite questions. “I’m not suicidal” is more equivalent to “I have a cut that isn’t bleeding”. It invites more questions – does it need to be bandaged? Stitched up? Any concern about infection? Could it start bleeding? Why bring it up at all? And if you respond, “I had a cut before and it didn’t need stitches.” Does that mean that this cut is the same as the other cut? Maybe something is different in the circumstances that means that it will need medical attention or might get infected (worse).

          2. Allonge*

            It’s much better for sure.

            I still would prefer to know what my colleague expects me to do with the information. I am perfectly happy to go ‘I am sorry, that sucks’ or to ask ‘do you need anything from me about this?’ I am not particularly inquisitive, though.

          3. Julia*

            I’d argue that “I’m not suicidal” is in a different category and it should be in a different category. It’s a good thing that it sets off more alarm bells than “health issues but nothing serious”.

            I am put in mind of an earlier letter where someone wrote in because their coworker was literally yellow, seriously jaundiced, and had a reputation for not seeking medical treatment. Coworkers took action and urged this person to see a doctor, and I’d argue this is a similar situation.

            1. JM60*

              If I found the letter you’re thinking of, that does ring alarm bells a bit. Though I do want to note that people on that letter generally weren’t recommending outing to employee with the illness to the employer.

              1. tessa*

                Looks like you didn’t read the letter upthread about the teenager who didn’t speak up about a co-worker’s worrisome comments (not recognizable as such by a kid), got screamed at and blamed for the co-worker’s suicide by the co-worker’s relative, was fired for not speaking up prior to the suicide, and spent years in therapy undoing the pain, guilt, and psychological damage.

                Your laser focus on expecting the LW’s coworker to not say anything at all costs is itself quite chilling.

                1. JM60*

                  I actually did see that, and there are many problems:

                  1) Speaking up doesn’t necessarily mean a better outcome.
                  2) Even if a better outcome would’ve otherwise occurred in hindsight, not speaking up still doesn’t make someone responsible for a coworker’s suicide.
                  3) Speaking up to someone’s employer may cause more harm than good. Just like you point out an anecdote where someone was blamed for not speaking out, there’s also a couple others in this thread reporting that they’ve faced workplace discrimination because their employers knew of their mental health issues. Alternatives exist (external help, informing the employee of help the employer provides and let them pursue it).

                  I think if you’re going to circumvent someone’s autonomy, you need to have a very extremely degree of certainty that the benefit outweighs the risks.

                2. tessa*

                  Except no one should put a co-worker in the position of having to weigh such risks in the first place?

                  Why do you not put an ounce of responsibility on those who tell co-workers alarming things like “I’m down and can’t find a way out but I’m not suicidal”? This isn’t nearly as black and white as you make it out to be, and it is quite troubling that you do see it as such.

      2. MK*

        The OP didn’t just share a mental health diagnosis, she also shared that she was at a low point in her mental health, but not suicidal. No, I wouldn’t go to HR if someone told me they had cancer. But if someone I knew had cancer told me they were in a lot of pain, though not actually unable to function, I would probably do something.

        1. biobotb*

          Particularly if the person whose cancer and pain were interfering with their ability to do their job and also refused to pursue treatment for the cancer or the pain…

      3. Lavender*

        I think the phrasing of “I have some untreated mental health issues, but don’t worry I’m not suicidal” raises red flags in a way that “I have cancer, but it isn’t terminal” does not. The fact that OP felt the need to clarify that they aren’t suicidal implies that suicide might have been on the table at one point – and that can be frightening and overwhelming for a coworker to hear. If OP had just said that they were dealing with some mental health issues, then I agree that contacting HR would have likely been an overstep, but the mention of suicide (even in the context of “I’m not going to do it”) is concerning in itself.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          This. It’s very concerning, and I think the “but I’m not going to do it” part is sadly something that a lot of people have heard from friends/family members that has turned out to not actually be true. How many people could say “he said he was just feeling low but he wouldn’t actually do anything, but then…”? We don’t know what history the coworker has with this, and this could very well be something she’s heard before.

      4. Allonge*

        Genuine question: why do you share private health information with people you work with when you don’t want them to do anything about it?

        Yes, if someone at work told me they had cancer, are not getting treatment and did not use any of the employee support options I know and told them we have available, I might well go to HR and say, look, is there anything we can do / I should be doing? I would not name names if the colleague asked me for confidentiality, but still, yes, probably?

        1. MK*

          Yes, I don’t known how realistic it is to expect coworkers to hear that you struggle with mental health and potentially suicidal thoughts and.., do nothing? What would the proper response be? Because if you are just venting to your coworkers about these things, they really aren’t the right audience. Most people with physical ailments don’t actually share details in their workplace, in my experience.

          1. borealis*

            I interpreted it as meaning that the co-worker asked OP2 about their mental health, not that OP2 shared their health status out of the blue.

            Comparing depression, anxiety disorder, and other psychological ailments to physical illness is not always useful. Telling a co-worker that you struggle with depression isn’t necessarily “venting” – it’s more akin to telling them that you have a cancer diagnosis. People may or may not share a cancer diagnosis openly with their colleagues, but I don’t think many people would see it as gratuitous oversharing if they did, especially if it was something that could affect how they function in the workplace. There just isn’t the same kind of stigma attached to cancer as to depression and other psychological illnesses (well, there might be in some cases where the cancer is perceived as the person’s “own fault”, but as a general rule there isn’t.)

            As for what the coworker should have done – they should probably not have gone to HR without telling the OP about it. And they should perhaps have realised that there are things they can do that don’t involve violating the OP’s confidence, such as generally being empathetic, and perhaps asking about ways to make the OP’s working life a little easier (since the OP mentioned that the coworker has a supervisor function as well). It’s not easy to be in that situation, especially if you are genuinely worried about your colleague’s health, but to me it feels like the coworker did violate the OP’s confidence, and that makes the OP’s situation even more difficult than before.

            OP2, if you read these comments: I don’t know you or your work situation, but one thing that tends to characterise depression is that not only happiness but also mental energy is drained from us, and quitting your job and having to start looking for another one might not be a great idea while you are at a low point. On the other hand, if you were to find a job that you liked better, that could help with your general mood, so it’s hard to say. As for therapy and medication, in both cases it’s unfortunately really individual what works for whom. I don’t think it is uncommon to have to see half a dozen therapists before you meet one who is actually able to help you, and the same is true about medication. You probably knew that already, but in my own case, depression brain has a tendency to always look at things from the “this doesn’t work” angle, so it may be worth pointing it out anyway.

            1. biobotb*

              It might have helped with understanding the situation if the OP had explained in more detail about how the topic came up. To me “I ended up telling her” sounds more like the OP bringing it up themselves, rather than responding to a question from their coworker about how they’re doing.

              1. tessa*

                Yep. The OP does share more detail down thread, and it changes some of my my original impressions.

          2. anonagoose*

            It is not realistic. I have been depressed. I take antidepressants to this day. And I have dealt with, in my personal life, a lot of loved ones with severe mental illness. Venting about mental illness is, to be frank, upsetting! It’s something that is best done with context and a certain amount of trust and intimacy, and even then, most of the time it’s best saved for a therapist or other trained professional. Disclosing that you’re struggling and nothing more is totally cool, but it’s unreasonable to share potentially distressing information and expect that to stay completely confidential. And none of this takes into account the fact that people all come to the topic of mental health with their own backgrounds and traumas–for all LW2 knows, the coworker may have lost a loved one to suicide, or had some other experience that made this urgent. The people receiving the information have agency and subjecthood too.

        2. Khatul Madame*

          I get the need to just talk about this difficult journey, but you should realize: once you share ANY information, you don’t control where it ends up, or actions of anyone who hears it.

      5. Alice*

        A couple of years ago, a coworker at OldJob jumped in front of a train. I’m sorry but if a coworker told me they are “not actively suicidal”, I would tell someone. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do anything and the coworker then killed themselves. It’s a lot for someone to hear. I’m sorry LW’s HR & EAP were useless, the person who reported the conversation had no way of knowing.

        1. Annika Hansen*

          I hear you. One of my co-workers didn’t come to work one day and didn’t call in. She had committed suicide at home. I feel the exact same way as you. I want to prevent this from happening to anyone in the future.

      6. Forrest*

        What in your ideal world would be the level of risk assessment that an individual co-worker with no particular responsibility for mental health would be expected to bring to that conversation? I mean this completely genuinely– I think that in our current world, it’s extremely not reasonable to expect the average person NOT to get freaked out by a conversation which includes “I’m not actively suicidal”– being able to assess whether that means the person is at risk is very much something I would consider a job for an experienced professional, or a close intimate with long-standing knowledge of that person’s level of insight, stability, other forms of self-harm they might engage in, and so on.

        For me, as someone with volunteer-level training in mental-health awareness and some personal experience in my immediate social circle, “I am not actively suicidal” from someone I don’t know particularly well doesn’t mean, “not at risk of harm”, it means, “OK, clearly suicide is within the range of options you consider, even if you’re not currently planning how to harm yourself. How quickly might your state deteriorate? How good are you at assessing your own mental state and how quickly you can deteriorate? Is mentioning suicide at all a way of asking for help? If you’re not planning suicide, might you be planning another form of self-harm or risky behaviour?” I feel fairly confident about making judgments about all those things if we’re talking about someone I know very well — I cannot make them for someone who I know casually and where this is the first time they have ever told me about their mental health problems.

        But I’m really interested to hear what people think that should ideally look like, in a world where people were genuinely mental-health-informed and where there was widespread and adequate support for people with mental health problems. How do you think a casual acquaintance should respond to a conversation which includes “I’m not actively suicidal”? And what level of support should be available for the person hearing that statement?

        1. Ceiswyn*

          I don’t actually have an easy answer, but I wish there were more willingness to talk around the question. At the present time, it seems that if you don’t mention anything about suicide, people worry that you might be suicidal. If you say up front that you aren’t, in the hope of avoiding dealing with exhausting interventions, people… act almost exactly as they would have if you said you were.

          I mean, is there any way to have a discussion of ‘I’m struggling a lot with my mental health now, it’s just one of those things, please be gentle’ without vast escalation? And if not, how do depressed people navigate that?

          1. allathian*

            That’s a very good question. “I’m struggling but I’m also getting help to deal with my depression” would probably help at least a bit. When people know you’re getting help (whatever form that might take), they’re less likely to intervene.

            It wouldn’t occur to me to worry about someone possibly being suicidal unless they mentioned that they aren’t currently actively suicidal (but have been in the past, and could be again).

          2. I should really pick a name*

            Do people actually worry that someone is suicidal if they don’t mention it?

            If I heard “I’m struggling a lot with my mental health now”, suicide wouldn’t enter my mind as a possibility. It’s the “I’m not suicidal” that would get me worried, because the possibility of suicide wouldn’t be on my radar until they mentioned it.

            I’m not sure if my view is typical or not.

            1. Forrest*

              I think there’s a real multiple-level of comfort/awareness here where what someone says and what the other person hears can vary so wildly. Like I can kind of imagine:

              level 0 awareness: “someone said MENTAL HEALTH OR DEPRESSION, alarums, panic stations, cannot cope, deeply uncomfortable, activate all the emergency buttons”
              level 1 awareness: “someone said mental health or depression, oh dear poor them, 1-in-4 people struggle with their mental health at some point, it’s good to talk, wonder if they expect me to do anything, hope they’re OK.”
              also level 1 awareness: “someone said mental health or depression and that they are not suicidal, wow, that’s a step up from how my friends usually talk about mental health, I am concerned but do not have the tools or training to figure out what to do with this, I had better find someone who does, hopefully the bureaucracy is reliable and effective!”
              level 2 awareness: “someone said mental health and depression and that they are not actively suicidal, I checked in to see whether they had a plan and what support they are getting, the important thing is that they maintain their autonomy and feel in control, nothing good is likely to come from involving bureaucratic systems if they aren’t actively in danger.”

              like, I can see how this is a total minefield for the person wondering whether to disclose– you have no idea whether you’re dealing with a Level 0 who will freak out at any mention of mental health or a Level 2 who feels relatively confident dealing with disclosures and has a healthy distrust of bureaucratic systems. I don’t know what the answer is either!

              1. Kitry*

                This is really insightful. If only there were some sort of litmus test to figure out what level someone is at!

            2. alienor*

              Same here. If someone said they were struggling with their mental health, I’d be concerned in the way you’re concerned for anyone who’s having a hard time (honestly I’d probably say “me too, friend” because my own mental health has been in the dumpster lately) but no more than that. If they said “I’m not suicidal” that would be the tipoff that they’d at least been thinking about it. People don’t mention something that way unless it’s on their mind, and since suicide is often impulsive, who’s to say they might not think about it again tomorrow and act differently?

              1. Double A*

                “I’m not suicidal” + “nothing works to help me” is EXTREMELY alarming to hear, and I am someone who is very used to working with and talking with people about their mental health.

                1. Mauvaise Pomme*

                  I agree. I see many commenters expressing sympathy for the colleague, saying she may be inexperienced with these issues and felt out of her depth, but as someone who considers myself relatively experienced with mental health issues, I would STILL read this situation as highly alarming. For all we know, this coworker may have personal trauma in her past that is informing her desire to take action and connect the LW to help.

          3. Allonge*

            For me as a random coworker, ‘please be gentle’ is a lot of help as I have some idea of what you are expecting me to do with the information you shared.

            I am not super curious about people in general, so I might or might not ask follow-up questions about your state of mind – I don’t think we would be having a conversation about your mental health, it’s none of my business.

            But I would know you need something from me and if I am in doubt, I could try to check if you need e.g. an extended deadline or for me to stop inviting you for lunch or whatever.

          4. Batgirl*

            Positive statements like your example of “please be gentle”, or instructional terms like “one of the things that helps me navigate x is y”. Basically, if someone is not seeking treatment and simply wants certain behaviours or help from a colleague they should just talk about what is wanted and happening, instead of what is not. I would also suggest instead of “I am not suicidal” which sounds more like terminology for an expert, the way to describe it to a layperson would be “it’s too mild to require treatment and I am doing ok, I just need rest” (or if not rest, whatever you do need).

            1. Ceiswyn*

              Hmm… so perhaps, from the side of the colleague hearing about an illness they aren’t familiar with and don’t know how to react to, it might be useful to directly ask about that? Something like, I don’t know, “this sounds tough, can I ask why you’re sharing it with me?”

              I don’t know what the OP’s initial intent for sharing was, and I can think of multiple possiblities, but from the letter it seems like the colleague went straight into suggestion/solver mode, which is basically never the desired outcome – and can lead to the sharing of more personal/medical details than either person is comfortable with! But ‘what am I meant to do with this heavy information you’re giving me’ is a very valid question, even if you may not put it exactly like that. And asking gives the other person space to explain that they want to loop you in on why they might not be able to take on as much work / might need backup with X project / just wanted to do some demystification on World Mental Health Day / whatever.

              Does that make any sense?

              1. BethDH*

                This is a good idea and it would be great to encourage that. I still don’t think it makes it reasonable for OP to be mad that the colleague told HR, or to jump to the assumption that the colleague is also telling others.

              2. Mannequin*

                I think people with mental health issues need to be asking *themselves* “what do I expect my coworker to do with this heavy information I am about to give them” instead of expecting the person they tell to pick up the load or do the emotional labor.

              3. biobotb*

                But the person sharing their mental health state should not leave it to the coworker to ask those questions–they should be clear with the coworker and with themselves about what they are hoping to get out of the conversation. Why are they sharing? That’s a question to ask themselves, not another task to drop on the coworker.

          5. Salymander*

            I think you are right, Ceiswyn, that a willingness to talk about mental health more openly, as we can with other health problems, would go a long way toward helping make life easier for people with mental health struggles. I tend to talk fairly openly about it, not providing details so much as just openly acknowledging it. Some people get really funny about it, but mostly people are put at ease because I am pretty matter-of-fact about it, just mentioning in passing that I have a counseling appointment to go to or I need to pick up my meds. Mostly, people will then mention that they are or have seen a therapist, or that they are thinking about doing it. It becomes very much Not A Big Deal. I know that a few people have gossiped very unkindly about me, but that mostly just reflected poorly of them and did me no real harm.

            I might still have asked for help from someone above me at work if a coworker I was not very close friends with mentioned that they were depressed but not actively suicidal. With a close friend, we might have a heart to heart talk about things, and I would be able to find out if they were getting or needed help. I would know if they had a support system, and I would likely be a part of that system. With a regular coworker it is more difficult, as I would not know all of that about them. I had an aquaintance years ago who told a few people that they were depressed but not suicidal, and I later learned that they had attempted to commit suicide after that. I think because of this I might want to seek help for a coworker if they said something like that. I wouldn’t be reporting because I thought they couldn’t do their job, I would just be really concerned and trying to help. It is really unfortunate that many organizations are like the OP’s, where they over promise and under deliver what services are available. That makes people with mental health difficulties less likely to trust in and help they may get in an official capacity.

          6. Pescadero*

            “I mean, is there any way to have a discussion of ‘I’m struggling a lot with my mental health now, it’s just one of those things, please be gentle’ without vast escalation?”

            With your co-workers? No. There is not.

            ” And if not, how do depressed people navigate that?”

            With family, friends, and mental health professionals – not co-workers.

          7. Starbuck*

            “is there any way to have a discussion of ‘I’m struggling a lot with my mental health now, it’s just one of those things, please be gentle’ without vast escalation?”

            With coworkers? Honestly no, I don’t think so. When people bring up mental health, I know I’m NOT QUALIFIED to assess if someone is suicidal or not. So I’m going to refer to a professional because I don’t trust my own judgement on the matter.

            But also, I too am a very private person and don’t speak on my health issues at work – so if someone brought it up to me, I’d be assuming that things were pretty bad and that they maybe had no one else to talk to if they were sharing something so personal with me, their coworker who is not close to them. That also would be a red flag.

          8. biobotb*

            I think if someone wants to share their mental health struggles with a coworker because they want the coworker to be gentle somehow, they need to *explicitly state that goal* as part of the conversation. Explain what “gentleness” looks like, or what about their performance might need some more understanding from the coworker. Don’t just dump “I’m really struggling and won’t do therapy or medication but don’t worry about suicide just now” and then expect the coworker to read their mind about what they wanted from that interaction.

      7. L-squared*

        Honestly, it depends what it is.

        If someone says “I’ve had some anxiety lately”, no, I’m not going to HR. If someone says what OP says, including “I’m not suicidal right now”, I’m for sure going to someone better equipped to handle it.

        I know this may sound like a jerk thing to say, but I’ll say it. If you don’t want to run that risk, don’t involve a coworker. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. But its not fair to expect your coworker to shoulder this

      8. BethDH*

        This is less like a cancer diagnosis and more like someone telling you they’re having trouble breathing and getting mad when you call an ambulance. It sucks that the health system and stigma are what they are (this is obviously US centric when I’m talking about why someone would be mad about the ambulance) but that doesn’t change that it seems like the colleague handled it reasonably, even well, given their position in the situation.

      9. Rolly*

        If someone said “I have a tightness in my chest and some trouble breathing, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a heart attack, because I had one before and this isn’t so bad. Yeah, I’m not feeling great, but it’s not a heart attack” I’d escalate it.

      10. Daisy*

        If a colleague was visibly in physical pain at work, and told me that they had a potentially life threatening physical condition that they weren’t getting any help for, then yes, I think I would try and get help? I can’t see the difference?

      11. hbc*

        If someone told me they were having chest pains and light-headedness but they were sure they weren’t having a heart attack, I’d probably check with HR or their supervisor.

        I’m 100% in favor of people managing (or not managing) their own health however they see fit, but it’s pretty unfair to dump something like that on a coworker and have them risk *their* job (not to mention mental well-being) when you’re found dead and they have to explain that there were signs this would happen. “I’m very low, and while I’m not suicidal right now, nothing works to get me better” is not something a layperson can be expected to parse as reassurance that everything is going to be okay until they hear otherwise.

        1. Turnip Soup*

          This actually did happen to me at a job – a supervisor fainted when squatting down, woke up before I finished dialing 9-1-1, and then asked me not to say anything.

          I went and told our boss anyways (I waited maybe half an hour?) and yes my supervisor was angry but it turned out he had some heart stuff going on, he disclosed, and was able to get a lot more flexibility and accommodations and he stepped up his attempts to get medical help. To this day, I still don’t know what the issue was, just that he occasionally had to wear monitors, leave for appointments, and sometimes sit down for a bit and rest. Which prevented him from fainting and potentially hurting himself.

          1. tessa*

            @Turnip Soup:

            When I was a restaurant server many years ago, I was working one evening when a couple of my co-workers began shouting that another co-worker was choking and turning blue. I happened to be near a phone that was in the kitchen and called 911. Long story short, co-worker was okay, but the manager got angry with me for calling an ambulance. Knowing him, his anger stemmed from greater concern about the optics of an ambulance in front of the restaurant, and his own fear-based ego, than about his choking employee.

            I have never forgotten that.

      12. anonagoose*

        I already explained above why I think “I am depressed but not actively suicidal and not in therapy or on medication because they don’t work” raises alarm bells, rightly or not, but I’ll also add that I think there’s a specific quality to mental illness conversations that’s broadly lacking in discussions about cancer or whatever–the assumption of responsibility on the part of the listener. If someone has cancer and isn’t terminal, or even if they are, there is nothing I as a listener can do. But if someone discloses they have depression, there is a cultural push to make society more accountable on that front. We are all keenly aware of what happens if we don’t care enough about someone who is depressed–and yet, because of a lack of mental health literacy, we also as a society lack a sense of what to do with that knowledge or how to have those conversations. So I understand why a person who wouldn’t go to HR over a non-terminal cancer diagnosis would do so for a disclosure of currently non-suicidal depression. I’ve been depressed, I’m still on antidepressants, and I sometimes find these conversations difficult to navigate myself! And, perhaps because of my own history and perhaps because of the zeitgeist, I feel a certain pressure to get them right–that if I don’t, and something happens, then that person’s blood is on my hands in a way that it could never be with any other disease.

        And yes, this is reflective of a social stigma. No one struggling with mental illness wants their disclosure to be turned into a teachable moment or someone’s individual quest to save a life, especially when they don’t need saving in the first place. But it’s impossible to separate that context from the conversation being had. I want to stress that I don’t condone the barrage of messages that LW2 got, and I sympathize with their embarassment–but I also understand the impulse their coworker had to turn to HR for help in handling this disclosure, and I don’t think they were fundamentally wrong to do so.

      13. Turnip Soup*

        I have a fair number of friends with mental health issues and having it disclosed with “I’m seeking treatment/have a treatment plan and these are symptoms” has never bothered me. I’ve had coworkers mention going to therapy or receiving mental health care at work and that honestly barely pings.

        “I’m in a major crisis/down point, have no treatment plan, have no plan to seek treatment, and am telling someone I have a tenuous personal connection to about it” would worry me (and frankly I have a heck of a lot of trauma around other people’s untreated depression and do not need that coming up at work, so I would likely reach out to resources because it’s not a burden I can or should be expected to deal with at work.)

      14. Bagpuss*

        I think that a non-terminal cancer diagnosis is not really comparable. If you want to equate it to physical issue then something such as a person having a severe allergic reaction but saying they are fine because they haven’t actually lost consciousness yet, or someone with diabetes showing all the symptoms of hypoglycemia but declining any help are both probably more similar. And yes, in those kinds of situation I could be trying to do something to get them help, whether that meant calling an ambulance, or contacting the first aiders, or, if I couldn’t do those things directly, speaking to someone such as HR who could.

    4. ferrina*

      One of the things about depression (and most chronic health conditions) is that things that are normal to the patient are really, really not normal to non-patients. Something that is a daily occurrence for OP is very rare and very unsettling for someone that does not have depression.

      Coworker can’t see into OP’s mind and doesn’t know what crosses the line from “endurable depression” to “life-threatening depression”. It makes sense that she’s seek guidance from someone more experienced. Like if your coworker who has EDS said “my shoulder dislocates a lot, don’t worry about it”, you’d still have second thoughts about recruiting them for the company softball team, especially since most people aren’t really familiar with EDS. Going forward, it can help to use language similar to what you would for a physical health condition and give them some guidance on how to react. I like to say something like “I’m having an ADHD flare-up. I’ll likely take a little longer than usual today, but I’ll be back to normal tomorrow”. Bonus that if you refer to a future timeline- “Flare-ups like this tend to last a week, but by next week I’ll be back to normal” – then it will forestall any association with suicide.

      And I second Alison’s suggestion to try other forms of treatment- there’s a lot of different treatment options, both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical (I’m intrigued by light therapy). It sounds like OP’s “normal” is pretty outside the norm.

  6. Casper Lives*

    #4 Wow I’m happy for you! And proud that you quit when your reasonable requests were ignored. Please don’t stay any longer unless YOU want to. And please don’t overwork yourself more when you don’t owe that to work.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yes, OP 4, you’ve been telling them for a long time now that the load isn’t sustainable- but they didn’t want to listen. Now they are listening, but only to part of the message. I have a suspicion that if you extended the length of your notice they would seen it as a reprieve from needing to find your replacement – instead of just a bit more time to find and train the replacement.

      This phrase gets said here a lot lately: this situation is not your Monkey, and not your Circus. Please let the hear the whole message, and leave them to manage the monkeys they have created with an unsustainable workload.

      1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

        “I have a suspicion that if you extended the length of your notice they would seen it as a reprieve from needing to find your replacement”

        Not only that, but they might think that if they could persuade the LW to stay two weeks longer than planned, at the end of the two weeks they might be able to persuade him to stay another two weeks after that, and so on.

      2. Ama*

        Yes, I’ve been in jobs like this — unfortunately OP, your higher ups are short sighted and only see that you’ve been doing the work of two people just fine (as far as they are concerned, since they don’t personally have to deal with the stress and pressure you’re under), at this point changes are only going to get made if you leave and let them deal with the fallout.

      3. Roy G. Biv*

        Precisely this — the extended notice just means they will delay hiring a replacement. I gave a five week notice at my previous job, and the replacement person turned up by my desk exactly two days before I left for good. I apologized and said, “I will train you as much as I can, and the rest is in this binder. I was really hoping for a two week overlap, but I guess that’s not happening.”

        Of course it was not happening. I was so naïve. So invested in a clean hand off. Definitely more invested in a clean hand off than my boss was.

    2. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      So many companies are like this. Despite repeated pleas and solutions from employees they refuse to do anything to alleviate the issue. Until someone quits and they panic.
      They made this bed. They get to lie in it.

      I would not extend your notice unless you really need the money, and even if you do need the money, I’d opt to go freelance for them instead which gives you more flexibility to say no to things or to WFH if you want.

    3. University Schlep*

      I would definitely not agree to stay on. They will just keep extending and extending.

      Now if you do not have anything lined up after awhile and need money you might be able to negotiate a short term hourly contract for specific functions. But not until after they have been missing you for long enough to know that they are in a bad position. You can’t offer it up front or they will stop looking and rely on you. But if they are really desperate they may contact you.

      My spouse did this, he now works 10-20 hours a week for his former company, absolutely no more, and only on specific functions and on his own schedule so that he could still look for/start a full-time job. He gave them a 6 month contract at an hourly rate almost double his previous rate. Painful enough to motivate them to keep looking, manageable for them to keep things running. They periodically offer him more hours/permanent/how can we get you back, he says no. He will likely extend the contract past 6 months if needed, but is firm on the scope and 20 hours.

  7. Erin*

    #1 I’m not tracking how or why bringing “sorry I made everyone stay late” muffins might read as a gendered act. This letter only mentions that they are the newest/lowest ranking employee, and they messed everything up.

    1. Casper Lives*

      I’m guessing the LW is a woman and there’s a bad tendency to correlate woman + baked goods = not as skilled at job / stay at home mothers baking that “isn’t real work” / associations with “being in the kitchen” instead of seen as a professional

      I’m not the most coherent at explaining this. I’ve noticed that women in my conservative field have to establish their professionalism first before bringing in baked goods, or they’re pigeonholed as less good at the job. It’s an annoying, sexist thing.

      1. Gray Lady*

        But Alison lumped doughnuts and muffins together — I can see the issue with muffins, but there’s no Suzy Homemaker vibe to stopping off at the doughnut shop, and while men might do it slightly less than women, I don’t think it comes off at all the same way. I think in this instance if you’re worried about that vibe, doughnuts would function in a way that muffins would not. Even purchased muffins would be closer to the homemade thing, but it’s unlikely enough that someone would ever make homemade doughnuts and bring them in that it seems to have a different feel.

        That said, the baked goods solution here is probably unnecessary and I think Alison’s advice about not over-personalizing the blame and handling a work issue with a work apology is good.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          “Providing food that is coming from you and not the company” typically communicates the same thing. Making it vs buying it is just a stronger message.

        2. Jora Malli*

          To me, it’s less about the baking and more about the tending/caretaking. The nice lady in the office is making sure everybody is fed and cared for, which feeds into some gendered stereotypes. A lot of these things can be really subtle and people can pop a caretaking employee into the “maternal” category without really thinking about it, and suddenly they’re being asked to take on other kinds of maternal and caretaking duties like planning birthday lunches and keeping shared areas tidy.

          There’s nothing wrong with bringing in food every once in a while for a special occasion or just for fun, but the idea of doing it as an apology for a work related issue ties the food more closely to OP’s work responsibilities than I’d personally feel comfortable with.

    2. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      I didn’t see any reference to OP’s gender in the letter. Did Alison presume the LW to be a woman, or does she know this to be true based on something in the letter that was removed before publication? For example, did the OP sign their real name?

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Hmmm, you’re right. I know I leaped to the conclusion that LW was a woman exactly because of the above – – I have never known a male colleague to consider baking muffins to apologize! (Although I did once have a boyfriend who would cook me dinner when he was in the doghouse.) If LW is a man, though, my points below still stand – – this might not fit in with the office culture, and you don’t want to call this much attention to the mistake.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Agree with above. Acts that are seen as caretaking / nurturing / homemaking have a gendered component in the workplace that women whose jobs do not include that likely want to avoid. Becoming known early on as Muffin Girl in a job that does not involve muffins can get in the way of becoming known as Woman Who Is Great At Her Job. That all is especially because:

      *LW is new and may still be learning the office culture. If this is an office where bringing in baked goods isn’t common, she really doesn’t want people to hang on to that;

      *LW is trying to atone for a mistake. If muffins aren’t usually part of the office culture, and especially not as a way to apologize, this is putting too much emphasis on the mistake;

      *as is discussed here often, women generally don’t want to get pigeonholed as the people who do the office’s unpaid and unappreciated labor, like planning parties and cleaning up and gift buying and annoying unassigned admin work. It’s one thing if the person whose job that is happens to be a woman, but that sort of time-consuming and underappreciated work should not just conveniently fall to the women in the office by default, while the men equally conveniently handle the “real work.” It is already an uphill struggle in a lot of offices and industries for women not to get stuck with the low-level work and skipped when the credit goes around. Muffins and birthday cards aren’t what win awards in most offices. Women should be trying to be known as people contributing in critical ways to the valuable work, not the Muffin Girls.

      It’s not that no one should ever bring muffins to the office, but this probably isn’t the right occasion for this person to do it.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        A male coworker of mine would periodically make brownies for us. They (and he) were quite popular! And our male boss had another kind of dessert he would occasionally make for us. Maybe people in the humanities are less hung up on gendered roles?

        1. Forrest*

          I used to have a (male) manager who always used to bake brownies for a particularly long and boring committee he has to chair. Very much appreciated!

        2. kina lillet*

          That doesn’t really get at the issue. The issue is that you bring in baked goods a few times and all of a sudden you’re no longer “Jane our llama wrangler, see her if you have questions”, you’re “Jane, she makes amazing cheesecake!”

          There’s just a switch that can flip in peoples brains between a misogynist binary of competent professional/ nice baking lady. That switch doesn’t exist for men. And there’s nothing wrong with being a nice baking lady (I am one) except when you want to be a competent professional. And the switch doesn’t always flip, but it’s annoying to deal with the consequences when it does.

          1. allathian*

            Before the pandemic, my male coworker used to bring absolutely stunningly delicious homemade chocolate mud cake just because he felt like baking.

            That said, our former (retired) department director used to bring baked goods to work every so often as well. Nobody questioned her professionalism, but maybe that’s because she was high enough in the org chart (her manager was the head of our organization) that it didn’t matter ?

            1. BethDH*

              As with many things, the gender element is strongly affected by other factors like age and status. And there are definitely places where this wouldn’t hurt you. But it sounds like OP is young enough and junior enough to be especially easily harmed by it and hasn’t been there long enough to know if she’s at a place where it’s safe.
              And she’s not in a situation where the default choice is bringing baked goods (like a work potluck). If they want to show appreciation more than what they’ve already done, do it the same way the colleagues did — stay late without complaining when someone else needs help.

              1. Software Dev (she/her)*

                Yeah, I used to bring in donuts to the office regularly, but those weren’t homemade and I had a reputation for being both competent and standoffish, so it never made people think differently. But I can see where it might be harmful to someone’s reputation. Also, making up for a work mistake with treats would just make me uncomfortable, like OP was over-apologizing.

              2. Jora Malli*

                Right. If you’re established as a competent professional with a role that is critical to the company, bringing in baked goods now and then will read as “competent professional brought in treats today, yay!” But if you’re still new to the business and haven’t established that reputation yet, it’s more of a risk.

              3. Rocket*

                Yeah, I bring in baked goods all the time, have been jokingly asked why I’m working at my organization instead of owning my own bakery, and no one has ever forgotten my skills at job or thought of me as simply the girl who makes good cake. I’m negotiating my third promotion at an org that doesn’t really do promotions (we’re a very small team) and I’m getting to basically create the role I want. The baking is just one of many things my org knows about me. But I work in an office of predominantly women and female presenting non-binary folk which could make a difference.

          2. EPLawyer*

            The issue is there is a difference between I was in the mood to bake and made more than I can eat by myself, so I put the extras in the lunch room, help yourseves and oooh I screwed up, here are some muffins by way of apology.

            Food as an apology is more neighborly than professional. Oh I am so sorry my dog dug up your flower bed, I will pay to replace the flowers and here are some muffins. So to bring them to work makes the situation less professional. As OP is the newest and youngest member she needs to take extra care to seem professional, not cold or rude, but not neighborly if you get what I am trying to say.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          IMO, no. I think LW’s words in this case mean more. Also, what BethDH said above.

    4. Allonge*

      In addition to the baked goods aspect, overapologising could be more of an issue for women than for men. OP needs so (and has been) demonstrating in work-appropriate ways she understands the seriousness of the mistake, she does not owe a ‘societal’ apology on top of this.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I did wonder about the workflow in this office where a big task that must be done every three weeks keeps everybody late at the best of times. That sounds stressful and like a staffing/training problem, rather than an OP problem.

    5. theletter*

      It’s a bit of an escalating combo:

      women are often socialized to nurture, to fix things with baked goods (literally a plot point in Encanto) and to really feel their failures. Hence, lots of women bring in baked goods to make up for failings. Do it too often and everyone gets the impression that they bring in donuts instead of actually addressing their issues.

      Also there’s still men who expect women at work to basically be den moms or secretaries, pushing women into admin work or unpaid emotional labor – they can be an assumption that women will take care of any celebration planning, but not acknowledge the work involved.

      Put two and two together and you get a talented women who visibility is hidden under baked goods.

    6. anonymous73*

      Regardless, it’s unnecessary. OP made a mistake, apologized, and is working to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Nothing more needs to happen here. You know when someone messes up and keeps apologizing, and it gets to the point of being annoying because you have to keep reassuring them that you’ve accepted their apology and they need to move on? That’s what bringing food in would represent.

    7. Nanani*

      Remember that Alison has more information than is necessarily posted, like the LW’s name and email.
      Women being expected to bring in baked goods / being seen as the office baker rather than their actual job is a real thing that happens.

      Plus like, apology donuts are not the appropriate response anyway. LW already did that – it was to apologise and take it seriously by not letting it happen again.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I worked someplace where the punishment for “breaking the build” was that you had to bring in donuts.
        Nobody was exempted from that group norm, regardless of if they were a junior engineer (we were all paid more than enough to afford donuts occasionally) or a woman.

        Another thing I’ve seen across employers is a norm of one person owing another a beer when the latter fixed a mistake by the former.

    8. Artemesia*

      A great way to become the ‘office girl’ is to bring muffins. Or if an older woman to become the ‘office Mom’. Once well established and if other people occasionally bring treats, you can participate, but not as an apology — this is just not professional for a work situation. I used to bring donuts to staff, partly because I think I ate more than my share of the treats that staff sometimes brought in — so I could bring in donuts to do my share. But I was senior, well established, and I didn’t bake em myself. As a new woman in an office, never be the baked goods person.

    9. Gumby*

      I see how it can read as gendered, but I have also seen it as not. And that depends on context. But probably the contexts in which it could pigeon-hole you as the homemaker / mothering type outnumber the ones where it wouldn’t.

      Example of not: new-ish employee breaks the build which causes a day delay in a subset of tasks. Co-workers inform him that if you break the build you have to bring in cookies/donuts the next day because it is tradition. Newish employee does even though, unbeknownst to him, it was not actually tradition. It becomes new tradition. (A dozen donuts was not enough to put even the slightest dent in the salary of an entry-level programmer in this Silicon Valley tech company but if it had been, I would have hoped that the “you actually brought us donuts? we were joking!” would have been accompanied by offers of remuneration.) The whole thing was actually very good-natured.

  8. Danish*

    Just here to validate OP number two on feeling upset and like your coworker shared your private health/medical information with people who historically just made things worse. Because that’s what she did.

    Of course, she didn’t know that hr/EAP was some combo of hostile and useless, and others are right that she was likely just concerned about you, but I fully understand why you feel humiliated and exposed and want to quit.

    1. MEH Squared*

      Same here. For a long time, I lived with a deep depression that made me not want to exist, but I wasn’t suicidal. I never mentioned it because I didn’t want what happened to the OP to happen to me. It was very much on my mind, though–nearly all the time.

      I wish there was a way to talk about it without people freaking out (not blaming them. It’s a heavy subject), but we’re not there yet. I don’t think the coworker did anything wrong; however, I can understand why the OP feels the way they do.

      1. anonagoose*

        For what it’s worth, not wanting to exist is passive suicidal ideation. I felt that way for a long time too and also thought I wasn’t suicidal, but it turns out that is, actually, a form of suicidality, just not an active, intent one.

        I mention this so that anyone who sees this comment can know–if you or a loved one has persistent feelings of wanting to just stop existing, or to die in a way that does not put you at fault, that is a form of being suicidal and you should seek treatment.

        1. Software Dev (she/her)*

          Yes, my friend had this for the longest time and honestly, it was really hard to hear about. There is nothing that makes you feel more helpless than hearing that someone that you love and value doesn’t want to exist.

          She’s doing better now, but please if you feel like this, seek help.

          I don’t know if this will help anyone, but some percentage of her depression was a massive Vitamin D deficiency. Taking supplements didn’t cure her but it did help mitigate the symptoms. Only mentioning because this is a relatively easy thing to get tested and try.

    2. Sean*

      That’s the sense I get from the OP’s letter, too.

      It’s not that the co-worker put the OP in touch with HR and EAP, but that the co-worker put HR and EAP in touch with the OP.

      The OP felt she could confide something very personal, only for it to be disclosed to a third party. That represents a loss of autonomy at a time when the OP was already feeling low. The co-worker had the best intentions, but I feel that if we could turn the clock back perhaps the co-worker could instead have suggested the OP contact HR/EAP and/or other organizations. As things now stand, the OP is probably less likely to confide in anyone should events take a turn for the worse.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Co-worker suggested both medication and therapy, was told by the LW those solutions don’t work for them and was left with a co-worker who had told them they’re in a bad way, but also not seeking treatment or professional support.

        1. Dinwar*

          And my coworker has a responsibility to assist why, exactly?

          I’m not joking. I genuinely do not understand where the obligation to act arises from. I can see justification for such an obligation if the person is suicidal or potentially a danger to others, but after that, the OP is presumably an adult and responsible for their own life. If I had money trouble, or a different medical condition, and it wasn’t obviously affecting my job it would obviously be inappropriate for a coworker to go to HR behind my back even if you thought I was mishandling it. Why is mental health (again, baring clear actionable evidence of potential for self harm or harm to others) different?

          Again, it comes down to autonomy. The OP opened up a little, and their coworker’s immediate response was “Obviously this person can’t take care of themselves, I need to step in and to it for them.” Even if the coworker didn’t intend it, that’s what it’ll come across as. This does two things. First, it re-enforces the idea that depression is a shameful disease that needs to be kept quiet and secrete lest the rest of the world ostracize you. This makes folks less likely to be open about it, and that makes it worse. Second, a feeling of loss of control or being incompetent is present in many people who are depressed, and the coworker just re-enforced it. That’s the opposite of helping.

          If we lived in a culture where everyone was open and caring about mental health, and we had a robust mental health care system, maybe it would be different. But as society stands now, depression is still seen as shameful, and people suffering from it are still treated badly. The fact that people on this forum are okay with taking away autonomy from someone with depression demonstrates this. I for one would be EXTREMELY uncomfortable discussing mental health with folks here.

          1. Casper Lives*

            What, EXACTLY, do you expect the coworker to do when you tell a friendly acquaintance that you’re depressed, aren’t seeking help, aren’t on medication and/or doing therapy, and spontaneously say you’re not suicidal? Please be specific. Right now, you’re saying “not that,” but not saying what you expect of a business relation.

            And yes, to head off comments about me not understanding, I have depression and anxiety that weren’t well managed in the past. Going to my coworkers would’ve been a nuclear strike level of calling for help. I’d never disclose that much info about my own health condition without expecting assistance or suggestions.

            1. Mauvaise Pomme*

              I agree. As someone with a personal history of mental health difficulties, and having lost someone I cared about to suicide, I would also read a spontaneous disclosure of this nature to a coworker (someone the LW says they don’t know particularly well) as a 100-decibel-loud call for help, and would react as though the situation was urgent.

              1. anonagoose*

                Just throwing in another agreement that I would have also read this as a cry for help. I tried very hard to keep my issues secret, and in hindsight I was not successful, but I didn’t ever admit to them in words until I was forced to. Bringing them up apropos of nothing with a person I’m not close to would have been a hail Mary.

            2. Dinwar*

              “What, EXACTLY, do you expect the coworker to do….”

              Absolutely nothing. What EXACTLY I expect a coworker to do in such conditions is: Absolutely nothing. Unless I specifically ask for them to take some action, I would expect them to do absolutely nothing. I would LIKE for them to offer a sympathetic ear, and I would TOLERATE them offering some advice (I know my coworkers), but I would EXPECT them to do absolutely nothing.

              I believe I’ve made that clear before, but let me know if there’s any lingering confusion.

              Unless your coworkers are psychologists they do not have the training or resources to do anything but at best be a sympathetic ear. Unless they are a mandatory reporter and my situation triggers legal requirements they aren’t even realistically under any obligation to do even what I listed above–they would be well within their rights to say “Not my problem, deal with it on your own time.” No, I wouldn’t respect one the responded that way–but it would be a personal, not a professional, issue. I’ve worked with a number of people I have no respect for as human beings, it’s part of my job.

              Further, coworkers aren’t friends. I say this as someone who likes my coworkers. They’re still not my friends. They associate with me because they are paid to do so, under very specific conditions and for very specific purposes. I would never associate with most of my coworkers if we weren’t getting paid; our lifestyles are simply too different. They are acquaintances. The level of obligation they have to me is dictated by the terms and conditions of our employment, full stop.

              There was a letter posted later in the day on this very site where a woman complained that someone was offering her unsolicited advice. Everyone was on board with the person offering the advice being wrong. Going to HR is several steps beyond that. To say that offering unsolicited advice is wrong, but direct intervention in medical issues without consent of the person having the issues is proper, is a clear contradiction.

              Since apparently my mental health history matters here, I’ve had some pretty serious issues myself, including a suicide attempt. Heavy-handed intervention that violated my trust and demonstrated a flagrant disregard for my ability to make my own decisions (which is how I view the call to HR) would have been very, very bad during any of these events. I honestly think that, for me anyway, the results would have been worse than death. I suppose each is different, and in the end we view the world through the filter of our experiences. That of course only re-enforces my argument that unless you have professional training in this field you are not qualified to intervene without explicitly being asked to do so.

              1. anonagoose*

                The problem here is that the relationship goes two ways, and you’re not saying anything about the agency involved in opening this discussion up and disclosing information in a way that is worrying to a person who isn’t a medical professional. People come into conversations (about mental health, about the weather, about work) with their own baggage, and you can’t control how someone understands what you say or what they do with it. If you share information that is widely understood to be both distressing and misunderstood, it’s not fair to expect your conversation partner to 1) understand your exact meaning correctly and 2) respond in the manner you prefer–especially when, as this comment section has shown, different people have very different reasonable interpretations of that comment even allowing for the same basic medical understanding of the words.

                If you want a relationship in which you can control what the outcome of disclosure is, you can get that with a therapist or a helpline. It is unreasonable to ask that of a coworker. Your argument seems to be that a person should be able to share this kind of thing, which is, I reiterate, distressing, but not take any sort of action at all in response to it–that is an unreasonable position. The people who receive information are individuals with subjecthood and agency as much as those of us dealing with depression. So unless you’re also arguing that people shouldn’t be disclosing this information unless they expect a response, which would seem to be the logical continuation of your position, I’ll remind you that it’s not fair to give this much weight to the emotional needs of the person doing the sharing and so little to the person doing the listening. If a lack of professional training should disqualify you from intervention, it should probably also disqualify you from being a place a person in need turns.

                And look, I don’t fundamentally disagree that people with mental illness need to have their agency respected. But I think your argument here verges dangerously close on protecting that agency at the expense of seeing the people they disclose to (who, remember, might also be mentally ill or otherwise have issues surrounding this) absorb intimate and potentially upsetting knowledge while also denying them any sort of agency of their own. I’ve been in that position in the past and it was incredibly, incredibly traumatic.

          2. prc*

            because it’s unfair to put that burden on someone you don’t know well and expect them to struggle with it on their own. that’s asking a huge amount of emotional labor from someone who isn’t a the right position to provide it and probably didn’t sign up for it. they sought help so they weren’t stuck having to assess and figure out what to do alone.

          3. BigHairNoHeart*

            I completely understand where you’re coming from. If I could offer another perspective, I wonder if that would help? My first thought reading this letter was about a friend who was depressed and committed suicide. I and a lot of our mutual friends ruminated quite a bit about what we could have done differently to help. Were there warning signs we missed? Steps we could have taken? Professionals we could have informed? I think you’re right, coworkers don’t have a responsibility to assist, but many people put that responsibility on themselves regardless (particularly if they’ve had an experience in their life where not taking action or “the right” action seemingly resulted in a friend taking their life). I don’t know, I hope you don’t take this as me attacking you, I’m very sympathetic, because I’ve been there. But I’ve also been on the other end of it, not knowing what to do with information that someone has confided in me. I guess, if autonomy is important, the person disclosing should be very conscious about who they’re disclosing to and explicit with those people about how they don’t want them to share that information (even with “helpful resources”). This isn’t the ideal solution, I think you’re right on the mark about that being a different soci8ety/health care system. But it might be the most practical one, unfortunately.

          4. Toni*

            Because if someone is presenting as potentially suicidal, which is what someone who spontaneously informs me that they are not actively suicidal right now is doing (because I do not assume you are suicidal until you bring that concept into the discussion), I am not willing to live with the guilt of having done nothing.

            No one gets to unload that on me and then expect me to do nothing. I am not your doctor or your therapist, and I did not consent to being used in this way.

          5. Shan*

            I feel like this is really ignoring the potential burden OP placed on the coworker here. I have no idea if you’ve lost anyone to suicide, but I have, and I literally still lay awake at night sometimes thinking about it. It’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. If a coworker I only had a friendly-but-professional relationship with came to me and said what OP did, I would absolutely inform HR about it, because, frankly, I’m not willing to take that on for them. I don’t mean that unkindly, but it’s simply not fair to ask that of a colleague.

          6. LDN Layabout*


            Autonomy goes both ways, the co-worker is not an NPC in LW’s grand life adventure, they are a human being who have just been told their co-worker is struggling, appears to have no method for coping with it, but oh, don’t worry, they’re not suicidal, a topic that the LW introduced into the conversation.

            The co-worker may not have had any experience with suicide, or they may have had a loved one die, or they may even have had mental health struggles themselves and been triggered or worried about the LW’s state of mind. They reached out to a resource shared by both them and the LW, which they likely saw as the logical thing to do.

          7. biobotb*

            Wait, you think the coworker shouldn’t have taken the (limited) steps available to them to try to help the OP, but then complain that our society is not caring enough? What does caring about someone’s mental health, but not taking steps to help, look like to you?

          8. Rocket*

            Because it’s been drilled into our heads since we were children “if you see something, say something.” I can’t tell you the amount of seminars and trainings and school assemblies I have been to in my lifetime that talked about warning signs for suicide and pressed upon the audience that it was IMPERITIVE that you do something, tell someone.

            Also, different subject but…you have no idea what baggage your coworker that you’re blithely saying “I’m not suicidal, I promise!” to is carrying. I do not suffer from depression myself. But I will carry the pain and the loss and the guilt of my high school friend’s suicide with me my entire life. So someone bringing up suicide is not doing so in a vacuum of their own depression. You have to deal with my experiences being part of the equation now.

          9. Forrest*

            I am prepared to be told that I’m being super ableist here, but genuinely, what about the autonomy and consent of the person who hears that disclosure? Like, why is the assumption here that it’s good that LW “opened up” to her colleague or was “open” about her mental health problems, regardless of the impact on her colleague?

            I don’t know how to say this strongly enough, but I genuinely don’t think it’s a bad thing if you would be uncomfortable discussing mental health with me, especially if we were colleagues. I fully believe I have a right to go to work and mess around with spreadsheets and not have my co-worker disclose their mental health problems to me– or their money problems, or their bowel problems, or their sex lives, or their religion, or whatever else.

            I have had conversations about mental health with colleagues who were close enough to be friends, and where we had a shared understanding of consent, boundaries and support. I have supported close friends through very difficult mental health situations. I have been a volunteer on a crisis line. I’ve been in a really difficult and horrible situation where I found myself supporting someone who was suicidal without any formal or professional support and where I had to make some pretty horrifying and upsetting risk assessments, and I decided I was taking that person to see a professional even if it meant they never trusted me again because I couldn’t sustain the level of support they were asking for. I support my partner’s mental health problem. And I certainly don’t claim I’m free of mental health stigma, but I also don’t think I’m coming purely from a place of stigma when I say, I, your colleague in a normal, non-therapeutic workplace, am probably not the right person to reach out to when you need to open up about your mental health problems. I am really sorry if you don’t have a better person, but that doesn’t mean that it’s OK to use me as your sounding board. And it’s even more not OK to use me as your sounding board and then place conditions on what I can and can’t do with that information.

            I do not know how the conversation that LW had with their co-worker went down, and I don’t know whether the co-worker invited those confidences or whether LW was simply bursting with the need to talk to someone and took a casual, “how are you?” as an invitation to talk about their mental health problems. But it seems pretty clear that LW and the co-worker didn’t have a shared understanding of boundaries, confidentiality, support and autonomy, and honestly, that is on LW just as much as it’s on the co-worker. If you don’t know whether I am consenting to hear about your mental health problem, and whether I have the same understanding of confidentiality and support as you, you do not know me well enough to disclose your mental health problem to me.. If that makes you hesitant to open up to me about your mental health problems– good? I think that’s a good outcome for both of us?

            Being supportive of mental health problems does not mean being available to hear anyone’s mental health disclosure any time they feel it would be good for them to make it. For me, being able to trust in a shared understanding of both people’s interest and availability for this conversation and some shared rules about confidentiality (and recognising that those are dependent on specific relationships and specific contexts, not universal across all relationships and contexts) IS one of the ways we support good mental health, not a rejection of it.

    3. Dinwar*

      That’s my take on it as well. If I told someone I wasn’t doing well, and they told HR, I would consider it a fairly egregious breach of trust and would certainly hesitate before telling them anything sensitive, work related or not. Yes, it came from a place of caring. But the greatest harm often comes from the desire to do the greatest good. There’s a difference between helping someone and stripping them of autonomy, and surprisingly few understand where the line is, especially with mental health. I’ve found that you need really strong boundaries for this sort of thing to avoid having someone steamroll you.

      I also wonder how it “came out”. People can be extremely pushy, and project their own needs into the conversation. One of the problems with mental health is that there’s a lot of individuality to it, so it really does take a trained professional to understand these issues. And as others have said, this sort of over-reach often prevents people from talking about mental health issues in the first place, as it increases the feeling of stigma (remember, it’s a given in this equation that we’re not dealing with a person in fantastic mental health).

      To be clear, I think there are circumstances where going to HR for mental health is appropriate. If there’s fear of self harm or suicide, sure. And if someone goes to you in a professional capacity, going to HR is expected. I went to my manager asking for advice on finding a marriage councilor, for example (I’m hoping to transition from a field-based role to a home-based role and want to have some help dealing with the inevitable problems that this will cause), and I’d be surprised if she didn’t go to HR.

      1. Bagpuss*

        ” I think there are circumstances where going to HR for mental health is appropriate. If there’s fear of self harm or suicide, sure”
        I think the issue is that, based on the description, it’s very likely that that’s exactly what the LW’s coworker decided – they were in a situation where a colleague told them that they were struggling with their mental health, that they felt medication nd therapy were not useful and that they were not suicidal right now. In that scenario, I think an awful lot of people, unless they have specific training or experience in dealing with mental health issues, would feel that there was a fear of self harm – and I think where the potential harm is so serious many people would err n the side of caution and decide that alerting someone who may be able to help is less risky than doing nothing and risk their coworker self harming or taking their own life

        1. Dinwar*

          Without knowing more about the “I’m not suicidal” comment, I don’t think we can evaluate whether the worker is justified in that or not, though. I can see the OP feeling the need to make this point without themselves considering suicide. Many people think depression makes one suicidal the same way chicken pox gives you bumps–suicide is symptomatic of depression, in other words. The idea that one can have depression without being suicidal, or that one can be suicidal without having depression, doesn’t cross their mind. If the OP is used to dealing with such people they may have intended it as nothing more than an explanation of their condition.

          I’ve had that experience. I’ve known some people who, due to changes in life circumstances (such as giving birth), had chemical imbalances that caused depression. Most of them, when talking to me, have made a point to say they weren’t suicidal, specifically because of the way society perceives depression. They were trying to reassure me they weren’t going to hurt themselves.

          As for telling HR being the less risky option, again, I don’t see that as true. If we were dealing with someone in good mental health, yeah, that sounds reasonable–I’d personally consider it an egregious violation of trust, but I acknowledge that others may see it differently. But again, we’re not dealing with someone who’s mentally healthy, and that matters. Something like a betrayal of trust can cause someone who’s already dealing with mental health issues severe mental anguish, to a degree that appears disproportionate to outside observers.

          Think of it this way: You’re trying to apply the standards of a gasoline-powered engine to a diesel-powered one. Sure, there are a lot of similarities, but if you try to run a diesel-powered engine with gasoline it’s not going to go well. When dealing with mental health issues you need to start with understanding the person experiencing the issue, and that means not assuming that what sounds reasonable to you will also sound reasonable to them, or that they will respond to things the way you would.

          1. Anon all day*

            There are many responses on this thread, and I’m adding myself to that group as well, saying specifically that, in their/our minds, depression does NOT automatically mean suicidal. If someone told me that they were struggling with depression, I would definitely not jump to wondering if they were suicidal. That’s why, when OP brought it up on their own, it’s particularly alarming (yes, even though they said they weren’t actively suicidal at that moment. Still alarming.)

          2. Allonge*

            When dealing with mental health issues you need to start with understanding the person experiencing the issue, and that means not assuming that what sounds reasonable to you will also sound reasonable to them, or that they will respond to things the way you would.

            I have no doubt this is true, and yet in a casual coworker relationship, it’s not a reasonable expectation. It assumes too much knowledge on the side of the random coworker, and puts too much on them.

            Let me put it this way: if you are grasping your chest and seem to have trouble breathing, you can expect your coworker to call 911 or the local equivalent. You cannot expect them to do a full survey of the dozens of possible causes. They are not qualified and assume the worst possible outcome, for a reason.

            1. Dinwar*

              “Let me put it this way: if you are grasping your chest and seem to have trouble breathing, you can expect your coworker to call 911 or the local equivalent. ”

              Ironic you mention that. I have a heart condition that occasionally flairs up and can, if it’s a bad one, have some of the symptoms of a heart attack. I would be rather upset with the ambulance bill should someone act out of ignorance.

              That said, your analogy is wrong. If this person said “I’ve got a bottle of pills beside me” or something equivalent, THAT would be akin to what you’re saying. That would be a situation where there’s an immediate danger–something present in your analogy, and something that I have said repeatedly justifies intervention. That’s also nothing like what happened according to the letter.

              A better example would be a diabetic eating a meal that I consider inappropriate. There’s no immediate threat. I’m not a dietician. I don’t know the circumstances. And it’s not my place to say something. If I act I run the risk of making the situation far worse, even harming or killing the person I’m ostensibly trying to rescue. I got to see what happened when someone blundered into that specific situation in high school. Fortunately the person survived.

              Your argument rests on the assumption that a lack of knowledge constitutes actionable knowledge on the part of the coworker, and that the assumption of worst-case scenarios is justified (despite being explicitly denied). I strongly disagree. I believe that if you don’t understand the situation and there’s no immediate threat–which there isn’t here–the appropriate courses of action are to 1) gain the appropriate knowledge before acting, or 2) don’t act. Taking uninformed action is almost always the worst thing you can do, because you are equally likely to opt for the worst course of action as the best. In fact, since there are more ways to screw up than to succeed, the odds are against you. And uninformed action is driven by blind, random chance. I acknowledge that sometimes you must take action in the absence of sufficient information–any manager has to–but only after every effort has been made to gain sufficient information (the coworker didn’t), once you’ve identified the risks resulting from the data gaps (the coworker didn’t), and once you’ve taken measure to mitigate those potential risks (the coworker didn’t).

    4. Nathan*

      Total agreement here — I would 100% feel the same way, and it’s blowing my mind a bit that so many people are unconditionally defending the coworker. I’m not saying this coworker was totally in the wrong, but boy would I be ready to quit if the same thing happened to me.

      1. L-squared*

        Because, at best, OP put her coworker in a SUPER awkward spot, which isn’t fair to coworker. So coworker erred on the side of caution. I can sympathize with how OP feels, but I think the coworker did the absolute right thing with the information she was given.

        I said this to someone else, but your coworkers aren’t the people to dump this information on. Find a friend, family member, professional, support group, whatever. But you don’t get to dump heavy stuff like this on someone you are only talking to because your managers hired both of you, then get mad when they make a rational choice about the best way to handle that information.

        1. Nathan*

          You may be right; without information about how the conversation came about, the relationship between LW and the coworker, and other factors, it’s difficult to tell.

          If I’m not doing OK and someone seems to be displaying genuine concern (i.e. more than just a casual “how’s it going?”), it’s kinda crappy to expect me to fake that everything’s fine.

          On the other hand, if it was a perfunctory “Hi, how are you?”, I totally agree that dumping a heavy “actually, I’m not in a good place right now” on a coworker would certainly put that person in an awkward spot!

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            For your first scenario, a coworker displaying genuine concern when you’re not ok, I don’t think the options are limited to “fake that everything’s fine” and “give a full medial debrief.” There is room for a response of “things are kinda rough right now and I’m working on figuring out how to fix/deal with/resolve them.” That would get an offer to let me know if there was anything I could do to help, and I would walk away from that conversation still a little concerned, but not actively alarmed.

            It’s the addition of the “but I’m not suicidal right now” that would launch me into actively alarmed.

            As others have said, it certainly isn’t cool to be asking someone having a tough time mentally to police their language, and I do feel for the OP and understand why they did not want HR/the EAP involved. But we can feel for the OP *and* understand why Coworker did what she did.

    5. SportyYoda*

      So, I would be interested in hearing a follow up to this letter in particular. When I started grad school, I had a limited social network after a MASSIVE falling out with friends; combine it with, well, starting grad school and I was at my lowest mental health wise (pretty typical suicidal ideation; I didn’t want to be dead per sey, but I wasn’t really motivated to be alive). Three failed attempts at therapy and three SSRIs later (maybe technically 2.5; one didn’t work and the one that did work needed a higher dose), I’m in a much better place mentally. Now, I would understand coworker was trying to help; a few years ago, I would have been LIVID that they tried to intervene. Most people think that HR is there for the employee’s benefit, not the companies; there may have not been anyone else for coworker to go to, coworker tried to go to someone else but was redirected to HR, or HR was better at coworker’s previous job and they assumed the same at this company. I’ll admit, it’s not the greatest solution (and even now I would be upset if someone told HR about my mental health struggles), but it’s wonderful that LW has a coworker who is concerned for them.
      (This is obviously assuming no one employed is a mandatory reporter; if that were the case, any reasonable suspicion legally needs to be reported)

  9. Sandi*

    If anything, I might suggest donuts (or something bought from a store and not baked yourself) the next time that you are doing a lot of the work, either that night or the next morning, as a thank you for their help to you. This is more of a leadership show of appreciation. I agree with Alison that you need to avoid apologetic baked goods.

    1. Squidlet*

      Agree that bought feels more appropriate than homemade in this type of situation:
      – less gendered
      – more casual (“I was walking past the doughnut shop…” rather than “I was up all night wondering how to make things better”)

    2. Sloanicota*

      Ha I had the same thought! I would bring a box of bagels or donuts that I clearly did not make if I wanted to make it good to the staff. But in this case, I don’t think you should have to, as you already apologized and it’s not like you made a personal error or something. You were trying to do the work you were being trained to do.

      1. Sandi*

        Someone made a useful comment above which explained my rationale: if OP brings baked goods now then it is an apology, whereas bringing food to a later late-night work task is more an act of leadership. I chaired meetings where people didn’t like each other and I brought donuts and a veggie tray as a peace offering and it seemed to help calm the room. It shouldn’t be needed, but that $10 was worth every penny for the effect that it had.

    3. NaN*

      I agree that casual donuts would set a better tone than homemade baked goods. In my first software job, there was a tradition that if you broke the build you brought donuts the next day.

    4. Blue Eagle*

      Ohhhhh, I thought the LW was bringing in something that was purchased and I didn’t get what Alison thought the problem was. We had a staff person mess up and brought in scones to apologize, but they were purchased and not homemade. As long as the baked goods are purchased and not homemade, then my recommendation is to bring them in. But if the question is – should I bring in home baked items, then the answer is an emphatic NO.

      1. Artemesia*

        Even purchased, baked goods apologies are a minefield for a new woman in a workplace. The ‘donuts if you break the build’ remark is about an office tradition shared by men and women. A new ‘girl’ who apologizes and then brings baked goods whether she makes them or buys them is not doing herself any good. A senior person who buys food for people working late or cleaning up a disaster is entirely different, just as a meeting chair bringing food is different from the new woman in the group bringing cookies she baked. You don’t want to be known as the cookie lady — you want to be known for your work.

    5. Clisby*

      We should all avoid apologetic baked goods. It’s likely to be cheap ass rolls, and nobody wants that.

    6. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      I don’t think LW should bring anything at all. Now or later. She says she is the youngest and lowest ranking team member. I don’t think that the lowest ranking person should bring in donuts in order to show leadership.

  10. Over It*

    #5 – My old boss sent me a job posting. We had a pretty open relationship, and he said as much as he’d hate to see me leave, we both knew [org] couldn’t provide me with the type of growth opportunities I was looking for. Two other people I worked also sent me the same post. (We were all subscribed to the same email list, so I had actually seen it before anyone sent it to me). I took that as a sign and I ended up applying for and getting the job! It’s turned out to be very dysfunctional so I’m not exactly happy, but man *on paper* it seemed like that job description had been tailor-written for me. Alison’s advice is spot-on; send the posts and make it clear that you’re not trying to force anyone out of their job, but want support them in growing professionally, even if that means doing so outside of the company.

  11. nnn*

    #1: I agree with Alison’s assessment that you’ve done/are doing everything you should do, but if you do still feel the need to make up for it, one relevant thing you can do is be the first to volunteer to stay late when something that you’re able to do comes up that needs someone to stay late or come in early.

    Just make sure it’s something you’re certain you can handle so you don’t get a replay of the same problem!

    1. birch*

      Totally agreed with this, keep it professional!

      I also don’t think OP “messed up” at all–they say this kind of work often results in people staying late, and they didn’t insist on taking on something they weren’t capable of, they were assigned this work. This wasn’t a mistake, this was within the realm of normal proceedings that OP just feels bad about because they were involved in it.

      I also think that bringing muffins or donuts is a nice gesture, but should only be done when 1. it’s clearly intended to thank people, not to grovel for their forgiveness, and 2. everyone already has a good attitude about the situation. If people are irritated at you, bringing baked goods to apologize comes off as either a weirdly personal beg for forgiveness rather than addressing your mistake, or a cheap and insufficient way to make up for their hardship. If people were irritated, you should keep it professional and focus on moving forward, which it sounds like is what you did. Plus, in either of those situations it’s extra weird if they all outrank you, because then the begging/gifting is flowing upward.

  12. ChrisC*

    #2: Your coworker may have worried that they were required to report your condition to HR, in order to ensure that any reasonable accommodations were being provided to help you deal with your condition. I’ve been warned in the past that failing to do so (depending on the condition disclosed) could cause some serious ADA liability for the company, and to always consult with HR ASAP in such cases.

  13. Observer*

    OP, I totally get why you feel upset and humiliated. But I also think that to some extent you are misreading the situation. Because I don’t think that your coworker “reported” you in the sense that she went running to tell HR that you are doing something bad. Rather, she almost certainly DID mean well. Unless she’s had (bad) experience with the EAP she would have not way to know that the suggestion would be unhelpful and possibly infuriating.

    I’ll point out that telling someone that you are not suicidal (unless they specifically asked about it) tends to read to most people as “maybe not planning something, but definitely thinking about it”. So, it’s really, really not surprising that she was worried. Especially since your depression is evident.

    I do wonder why you think she’s been discussing it with others?

    Lastly, I want to echo Alison and hope that you are open to seeking treatment. I get that your prior attempts were not helpful. However, it can take multiple attempts to find the right therapy / medication regimen for you. I’m not foolish enough to say that you WILL find some help. But I do know that, based on what you have said, it’s possible that you could still find effective treatment.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      One of the horrible things about depression is that it makes you see the worst in every possible situation. I think that’s why OP 2 is reacting this way. (I had a bad bout with depression when I was younger.) Yes, not all medication and therapy works for everyone who tries it. But also, it’s entirely possible that they just haven’t hit on the right combination yet, especially given that some therapists are better that others. (CBT worked really well for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone.)

      The way I framed depression is that it’s a condition that wants to isolate you from people and isolate you from help, hence the negative spiraling. It’s like being in an abusive relationship with your own brain. So the most helpful thing for me was to try to sort through what I actually felt and thought vs what the depression was doing to my brain.

      OP 2: Your depression is telling you that there is no possible treatment that could ever make it go away. Your depression is telling you that your colleague wanted to humiliate you, not help you. But has your depression ever done anything good for you? (I’m guessing that the answer is no.) If it hasn’t, then why are you believing what it tells you?

      (Note: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever trust your perceptions of a situation like this one, but it might help you to recognize that they are being skewed by your depression.)

      1. Jerusha*

        “It’s like being in an abusive relationship with your own brain.”

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen it put that way before, but I think that’s an excellent way of putting it. I’ve seen (and used) the formulation that depression is a liar, but this really expresses that depression doesn’t lie indiscriminately, but lies in a way that prevents you from “leaving” it.

    2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      I can understand even if she did tell someone else besides HR. I’ve been in situations in different workplaces where I would ask a coworker whose judgement I trusted if I should take an issue to someone higher up, or if I was blowing the situation out of proportion. Some of those places had HR people who weren’t very approachable, so even the moral support of a coworker would be helpful.

    3. Doctors Whom*

      I agree. I think that OP’s colleague did the absolute textbook thing to do in this situation. A lot of the commentary here is missing that the coworker has some kind of supervisory relationship with the OP, even if it may be only on some aspects of the work, and that confers additional responsibility with it.

      OP’s anger and interpretation that the coworker “reported” them and thoughts that they could not discuss the situation with the coworker without screaming/crying would make me suspect that the coworker is actually seeing affects of depression and/or anxiety in the execution of OP’s work too. This strikes me as much like catastrophizing that is a common anxiety response. It’s not clear why OP thinks coworker might have gossiped about this, but I wonder if there might be behavioral or performance changes (rather than mood effects) that others are seeing in the workplace.

      We have had a murder-suicide and a suicide at my work (unrelated incidents, many years apart) in the last decade. I would beat a path to HR in a heartbeat in this situation. OP’s coworker did they only thing they could possibly do.

      I hope OP finds something that works for them and feels better.

      I also hope that a lot of people out there get better HR departments. Our HR team is absolutely employee advocates and I can confidently say that no one’s job would be in jeopardy in the situation poster #2 described.

    4. Soup of the Day*

      Totally agree. I wonder if OP’s coworkers are just picking up on her mental state without having been told about it. I also feel that while gossiping about someone’s mental state is never okay, there is really no reasonable expectation of confidentiality when you disclose information like that to someone who is not a close friend or family member. The coworker might have mentioned it to someone else to ask what they should do, or in a “hey, I think OP is having a rough time right now if you want to reach out to them” kind of way, or even in a “oh, maybe don’t bother OP with that right now, they’re going through something at the moment” kind of way. It’s not ideal, but there are so many ways it might have come up in conversations with others without being malicious, especially if it was obvious to other coworkers that the OP was struggling.

  14. Fikly*

    #4: Outside of places with a contracted extended notice period (think 3 months or longer) a notice period is not intended to allow an employer time to replace you. It’s intended to give time to tie up loose ends and document key information so that either someone currently employed can continue on from what you left, or when they do hire a replacement, that person can do that.

  15. Anono-me*

    OP #4.

    If they hired a jr. Op and otherwise improved things; would you consider staying? If so, say that, but make it clear that if the new person or people aren’t people you believe would be good coworkers and if they aren’t in the pipeline be your already scheduled last day that you are still leaving on that day.

    Also, on behalf of your replacements,
    I would suggest tweaking Alison’s excellent script just the tiniest bit. Rather than saying “… leave things in good shape for the next person…” I would suggest “…next PEOPLE…” Because either they will be smart and hire two or more people to replace you or they will ne not smart and have a parade of individual replacements.

    1. John Smith*

      I’d guess more than likely there’ll be one…if any. My team is down 36 workforce hours a week through positions that haven’t been filled and has been like this for the past two years, yet we apparently still have enough staff to perform our functions (even though we obviously don’t). Another gripe is that as I’ve risen through the ranks, I’m still doing the tasks I was doing at lower grades because my manager won’t get junior staff trained up to do them. Some organisations simply do not appreciate their staff!

    2. Antilles*

      I wouldn’t offer that.
      It takes more than a couple weeks to hire someone even in the best of times. The instant you crack that door on “if you hire someone else”, you’re raising the potential for them to be ‘in the process’ or whatever. Then OP will inevitably feel even more pressure to extend the departure date because c’mon, you agreed to give us a chance to hire someone else and fix the workload, but you’re being unreasonable in expecting it to happen instantly; you know it takes time to arrange these things.

    3. anonymous73*

      They’re aware that OP is doing 2 jobs and haven’t one anything to resolve it. I wouldn’t offer to stay at all, unless they were willing to double my salary.

    4. Sara without an H*

      It’s really unlikely that they’d hire help now that OP#4 has given notice. This place sounds like its business plan is based on keeping staff levels low and sweating the employees for everything they’re worth. If OP#4 agrees to stay an extra two weeks, I guarantee that, at the end of that extension, managers will come back with a request to stay another month.

      OP#4, stick to your original time table. You admitted that, while you like your managers, they don’t listen to you. They’re still not listening. Stick with Alison’s script about unbreakable “commitments” and go when you said you’d go.

      That the “commitment” could be to sit on your couch for a week watching old movies is not information they’re entitled to.

      Good luck!

    5. Observer*

      If they hired a jr. Op and otherwise improved things; would you consider staying? If so, say that, but make it clear that if the new person or people aren’t people you believe would be good coworkers and if they aren’t in the pipeline be your already scheduled last day that you are still leaving on that day.

      I wouldn’t bother. There is no way for them to do anything significant to lighten the workload in this time frame. And that assumes that they would be trying REALLY REALLY hard to deal with it. Given the actual reality? It’s not going to happen, but they are just going to use it to pressure the OP.

  16. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    OP2: You seem to have a habit of telling people these really personal things, yet you see yourself as a private person. I think that navigating that contradiction might be helpful for you. You’re not a private person, but if you want to be, it might prevent you from oversharing in the future.

    1. ceiswyn*

      I’m not convinced that what OP2 did was oversharing, unless you think that mentioning illness is always oversharing.

      However, there is quite a common pattern that arises where you just want to mention that there is a Thing, and it’s making things a bit hard right now, and then move on – but the person you’re talking to leaps immediately into solutions mode, and you get dragged into revealing more and more personal medical details during the process of attempting to make them stop. suggesting. treatments.

      I’m not saying that this is definitely what happened, because I wasn’t there – but it’s such a VERY common response that I wouldn’t lay any money that it’s not.

      (And I personally get very irritated when I mention that I suffer from binge eating disorder, the person I’m talking to immediately suggests that I stop keeping chocolate at home, I point out that the last time I did that I binged on bread I kept in the freezer, not waiting for it to defrost, and they get very uncomfortable and say they’re not a therapist… Yeah. So maybe don’t try to play one on TV when I didn’t want you to?)

      1. Anon all day*

        There’s a massive difference between mentioning an illness and mentioning suicide (even if it’s in the context of not being suicidal at that moment.) I’ve never had anyone bring that up to me (though I have known at least one person who I was close with attempt it), so I would be completely alarmed and unsure of what to do if it happened.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Thank you.
      I had a parallel experience. I have chronic condition X (this isn’t about my condition, so I am avoiding naming the condition). X caused me not to be able to do Y at work. I got a doctor’s note and I was all set. No. Not really.

      What happened next was every year the company nurse came to me and asked me how X was doing. We were not friends so this was not two friends talking to each other. Every year I told her I was fine. I never gave her anything to work with. Each year I was able to determine that the nurse had also asked a cohort about her own condition X. So this was a survey that had been ordered by someone- somewhere. (What really ticked me off is that I was not on the company health insurance plan. So what business was it of theirs? The matter had been resolved it seemed to me.)

      Years later, yes this tale never ends, my boss sent another cohort over to talk to me as the cohort recently got diagnosed with X.
      Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to help my cohort. I was not happy with my boss’ memory like an elephant and her inability to let the subject die. My boss seemed to have numerous ways of circling back to talking about X.

      I was much younger then but I knew almost intuitively that I should not speak of my problem nor should I ever indicate I was having any difficulty on a given day. I understood that doing so would cost me my autonomy in dealing with the problem. I actively work at my issue daily and I have for decades.

      A good rule of thumb is if we tell someone of a problem the chances are pretty good they will drag in others. This goes for personal life problems also. My elderly friend tells me her basement is flooded, I am going to start helping her find others to drag into the situation. This is what people do.

      I totally get that it can come from a good place, the reporter had good intentions. I also totally get that the results of the reporting can be a disaster. I see comments to the effect that the cohort should not have reported OP. While this may be true, reality is that we cannot predict how people will respond to a concern. OP, those comments about “should not have reported” probably felt supportive, but do not reflect how things actually play out in real life.

      My boss wanted to tell me which doctors to use and what treatments to have. I shut that down as fast as I could. “I have things that I am doing to help myself and I am continuing to find more things. I feel better and I am doing better.” IRL, I was working like a dog to get myself feeling better and doing a bit better. I never let on about all that I was doing.

    3. Mynona*

      The OP’s inexperience with offices where people actually talk about life outside work probably contributed to this situation, so I feel for her. To be clear, discussing personal illness of any seriousness, even in a friendly office, generally makes people feel uncomfortable. I think this is hard to judge when your co-workers talk a lot about life at work and bond over it. When your own life isn’t “normal” then you have to learn what not to talk about. It isn’t fair, but there you go.

      1. Dino*

        “When your own life isn’t “normal” then you have to learn what not to talk about. It isn’t fair, but there you go.”

        Honestly, thanks for saying this horrible thing so bluntly. Over the years I’ve come to understand why generations of my family (severe hereditary mental illness throughout) have wound up living alone as shut-ins, surviving on meager disability benefits and not interacting with a single human on a regular basis while they wait to die. Nobody wants to hear about how anyone is actually doing because it’s too much and and makes it hard for them, the listener.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          That’s… grim. It can be as simple as having different levels of connection with different people in your life, who have a variety of shared experiences. Our work connections are usually shallow, so asking large amounts of emotional labor or support from them doesn’t make sense. Hopefully we have a support network of friends and family who know us better, are versed in the heavier aspects of our lives, and really do want to have those conversations. Our coworkers can’t and shouldn’t fill that role.

        2. itma*

          Bottom line is, you can’t expect or demand people outside of mental health services to support you in managing your mental illness. Of course a lot of family and friends (and neighbours, co-workers …) do a great job helping out and supporting mentally ill people, but not everyone is cut out for it (and even people who genuinely want to help and do a good job of it won’t have the ability to be there all the time).

        3. Dino*

          For the record, I don’t ask and would not ask coworkers to support me through my mental illness. But it means while everyone else is talking about their kids and vacations, I have nothing to share. Nothing to add, because it would be a burden on them and be seen as inappropriate and could lead to me being let go or pushed out of my job.

          So I don’t hang around in the break room or talk to colleagues. I don’t grab coffee with someone down the hall. And in the end, that means fewer connections and people in my corner both professionally and personally, since meeting people and picking up a hobby when it takes everything you have to get yourself to work everyday so you don’t lose your health insurance, is almost impossible.

          I’m not saying it’s my coworkers’ fault about any of this, and from day to day I keep a relatively sunny disposition. But that level of holding back, even the small stuff because it will lead to big stuff, makes connections with others shallower. And yeah, I can see why generations of my family have wound up giving up on trying to fit into the “normal” world.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I’m sorry that you feel this is how you have to function, but I really do want to stress that not everyone with mental illness, who doesn’t have kids or go on vacations, and who chooses to keep aspects of their lives private feels or operates this way. It’s hard for sure, but your comments elsewhere are concerning to me and I just want to say I hope you are getting some kind of support and not over-isolating.

        4. biobotb*

          I think Mynona was talking about work, not personal friends. At work, discussion of life situations is generally kept on the light side, because people are mostly not intimate friends. Expecting friendly acquaintances to help you navigate your mental health is not reasonable.

      2. doreen*

        I think that “When your own life isn’t “normal” then you have to learn what not to talk about.” goes too far. People might get uncomfortable if you talk about any number of things but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about them. But you should keep in mind that you can’t control what they do with the information and possibly they can’t either- depending on what exactly the information is, they might have an obligation to do something about it. To use a completely non-illness related example, someone once reported to me that a sort-of* coworker was sexually harassing her. She was then upset when an investigation was initiated. I’m not sure why she reported the harassment to me if she didn’t want anything done – but once she did, I was obligated to report it up and not attempt to handle it myself.

        * “Sort-of coworker” because we worked for Agency A in a facility operated by Agency B and the harasser worked for Agency B.

      3. Salymander*

        I think mentioning something casually to a long time or very close colleague is different from giving details about a very personal issue to someone you are not particularly close to. I have mentioned going to an appointment, and when my coworker asked about it I mentioned that it was a therapy appointment. I knew the coworker really well, so it wasn’t a big deal. Just as when other coworkers mentioned medical issues, problems with kids and other issues, I didn’t worry too much about it. It was the context that made the difference. I wouldn’t say something to someone I didn’t know very well, and I definitely would not unburden myself to a coworker, but I don’t think all mention of any personal topic should be forbidden.

        It is possible that the increased awareness of mental health issues due to the pandemic, combined with the different relationship of colleagues where one or both work remotely, made the coworker more inclined to defer to hr/eap. Also, mentioning suicide tends to get people anxious, and there is a lot of messaging out there about letting someone know if you hear a friend discussing suicide. If you have never dealt with eap or with any kind of emergency mental health services or organizations, you might not know that there is a lot of over promising and under delivering from some organizations, and there is also frequently a deluge of information and services offered that can be really stressful. I was sexually assaulted, and when I reported it I had constant calls from a variety of organizations and individuals. There were three different orgs trying to set me up with therapy, in addition to my own therapist, and innumerable other calls and requests for information. It was exhausting! And much of it was totally not what I needed. Some of it was even judgmental and not very kind. I imagine that dealing with suicide prevention people would be similar. It is a lot to deal with, and I can understand why the OP might feel quite overwhelmed. I hope they are able to find help for their depression that is actually useful. It can take time to find it, and doing that amount of work to find help can be really tough for someone with depression. Sometimes you just don’t have the spoons to deal with one more thing.

    4. Squid*

      I wholeheartedly agree. OP needs to decide how open they really want to be about their mental health in the workplace, as those conversations tend to be the absolute opposite of “I am a private person.”

    5. Generic Name*

      I agree. And I know that you’ve said therapy hasn’t helped you in the past, but it sounds like you’re expecting a coworker to listen to you talk in the same way a therapist would. The difference being a therapist is a trained professional who you pay to be a sounding board and emotional support for you, and your coworker isn’t any of those things.

  17. SSO*

    Re LW 1, I think Alison is right that your level at the company makes a difference. I was once the lowest-level employee a company, and had to wake up early one day to field angry customer complaints for a full day due to a mistake by the co-founder / head of IT. He sent me wine and an edible arrangement to apologize. I totally appreciated it!! But in my current position if a new employee brought in muffins to apologize for a mistake they made while learning a new duty or skill, I’d feel uncomfortable. I think this is similar to Alison’s gift/present rule, always flow down and never up.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Yeah, I think this is basically right. A boss could bring in apology donuts, and so could an experienced peer—but you don’t want to do it when you’re new or at the bottom of the food chain. Let your coworkers see that you’re learning; that’s what will matter most to them.

    2. londonedit*

      I agree. I’ve had difficult authors send me wine/a hamper/flowers to apologise for being difficult, and that’s fine. I’ve had bosses order in food when we’ve had to do something out of the ordinary, like spending a work day clearing out the office in preparation for a move, and that’s totally fine too. I feel like gifts from a boss or a client that say ‘Thank you for going out of your way for me, sorry I made you do that’ are totally reasonable, but gifts from a junior member of staff to apologise for getting something wrong would definitely feel off to me. Everyone has to learn, it was more the OP’s boss’s fault for giving them a task they weren’t ready for, and I think I’d feel awkward if someone junior to me tried to give me a muffin to say sorry for a mistake they’d made. Apologising for what happened, promising to work with the boss to mitigate future errors, and then demonstrating that you’re actually doing that is worth much more than a batch of muffins.

  18. Decidedly Me*

    In a previous job, someone told several team members about feeling down, but not suicidal. This info reached me as the manager and it was a real struggle for the team members that were given this information! That is heavy stuff to have to hear and not a one of them was trained to handle a mental health issue. They all just wanted to make sure the person was ok and also felt bad about sharing the info (only with me, not coworkers), as they didn’t know what else to do.

    OP2 – I think your coworker cares and was worried and the only thing she could think to do was loop in HR. It wasn’t reporting you, it was seeking help. Also, unless there are signs saying otherwise, I would not assume she went and told peers.

    Best of luck!

    1. Bluburry*

      This is how I am guessing this happened as well. There is probably no way that the coworker knew that
      1.) their coworker had previously been reported for the same thing and
      2.) that the resources provided to them were not helpful.
      Sometimes people panic when they hear words like “suicide” or “mental health issue” . If they don’t have experience, it’s pretty normal for them to go beyond themselves to look for help for someone they care about. The other thought I had was that perhaps the coworker had a previous experience with someone who completed or attempted suicide. The coworker may have been triggered. It is unfortunately common. If that was the case they definitely would have handed it off to someone who could help their friend.
      Sometimes, in these mental states, anyone who wants to help can come across as the enemy or not genuine because people have had bad experiences before with people who can’t or won’t help them. That goes into how our mental health and nonprofit systems are designed so I won’t go into detail…. But it’s sort of a miracle anyone ever gets any help at all.

  19. Sumit*

    Re #1 and Alison’s take about the gesture reading in a gendered way, that may be true but not necessarily disadvantageous. In a typical workplace people recognize that interactions are gendered and expect somewhat different responses, but if they are not otherwise biased, do what comes naturally.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Hard disagree. Unfortunately, junior-level female employees still have to pull a bit of “not like other girls” to be taken seriously, especially in male-dominated environments.

      But I agree with Alison that apology snacks aren’t the right way to go regardless of homemade vs store bought.

    2. EPLawyer*

      If you are expecting different responses based on gender, then yes you are biased. Not otherwise biased is trying to cover up the fact that the base starting point IS bias. Which is wrong.

      If you expect a woman to apologize more than a man, and the woman doesn’t how does that affect your interactions with her? If you are her boss, how does that affect your review of your work? Your feedback?

      It’s all this little things that are ACTUAL DISCRIMINATION BASED ON GENDER.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        How does it impact your impression of “how sorry” she is if she apologizes just as much as a man would instead of overapologizing? The list goes on.

        I’ve been lucky to work in a female dominant industry where I don’t encounter this on a daily basis and it’s like absolute whiplash when I do – so let me say with some authority that any level of gender bias really impacts your experience with someone and there is no minimum acceptable amount.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      This can be really dangerous territory, because you really don’t want to establish or reinforce a norm that the acceptable way for women to take ownership of skills deficiencies is to do take action that has nothing to do with improving those skills. What that really does is say that it’s okay to hold women to a somewhat lower standard so long as they Office Mom appropriately. That’s not appropriate for anyone of any gender.

      And I say this as a woman who likes baking, even for my coworkers!

    4. All the words*

      Respectfully, haven’t women been trying to remove that whole “interactions are gendered” way of thinking in the workplace for decades?

      Maybe it’s not necessarily disadvantageous, but we’ve got the receipts that it has been disadvantageous on the whole, to women in the workforce.

  20. Support your local street cats.*

    OP4, it seems that your company dug this hole on their own, and kept digging even though you warned them to stop digging. You’re under no obligation to help them fill the hole back in. Now, if you’re feeling magnanimous, offer to help them as a contractor for oh,maybe 3 or 4 times the rate of pay you get now. Then you can say that you helped them out of a bind and you keep your references in good standing.

  21. Hello From NY*

    LW2: I’m sorry to hear that you are having a rough time. I also struggle with depression. I like to remind myself that regardless of my feelings about a situation, I need to slow down and think about what reactions are appropriate/reasonable/logical. It’s ok to be frustrated or upset, but screaming at your coworker is not an appropriate reaction. Consider this: perhaps your coworker has themselves struggled with mental health at some point. Or perhaps they have lost a loved one to suicide. Your previous interactions with HR and the EAP were not positive, but your coworker has no way of knowing this.

    It seems like your coworker cares. That’s a good thing! Mental health awareness, understanding, and treatment options are never going to improve unless people start caring more. We need more caring people!

    I don’t know if you would find this even vaguely helpful, but in my early 20s I spent several years working with a therapist and taking medications. I found none of these things effective, so I stopped. A decade later (with the gentle nudging of a concerned friend) I decided to try again. New therapist, new medication. Things are far from perfect, but I’m now in a better place. I’m grateful that I gave it another shot.

    1. Viette*

      The part about not being able to talk to the coworker about this without screaming or crying really stood out to me, too.

    2. Rage*

      I’m going to second Hello’s mention of “trying again” with therapy and medication. I, too, struggled with chronic mental health issues, one of which actually (for the first time, truthfully) cause significant impact at work. (Yeah, I kinda broke down in front of my boss – but she and the rest of the org are very supportive and it all worked out for the best in the end.)

      If you have tried medication in the past and it hasn’t worked – get a GeneSight test. Seriously. It’s not cheap – insurance generally won’t touch it – but the company that runs it does a sliding fee that pretty much tops out at around $350. If it’s going to cost more than that, they will contact you to discuss options before proceeding. I paid $300 for mine, and consider it money well spent. (They will run it through your insurance first, just to check, so don’t freak out when you see a $6,000 charge on your EOB!) Anyway, scientists have tons of great data on how our genetics play a role in how psychotropic medications work for people, and this test will break them down into 3 zones: red, yellow, and green. The stuff in your green zone is what will work best for you. The stuff in your red zone, avoid at all costs.

      This was super helpful to me, because we learned that EVERY antidepressant except 2 are in my red zone. (My therapist, when I showed her the report, literally said “What the F***?” – it’s pretty rare to be so narrow in one’s options.) So I’m on one of the two and am doing great. It also explained why I’d obviously been “mostly OK but not great” for so many years, because I’d been taking a red-zone med for a lot of that time.

      And as far as therapy goes, many times just having the RIGHT therapist (like having the RIGHT medication) is why it hasn’t worked for you: you haven’t had the right one. And, yes, I know, it’s not something there’s a test for, and finding the right one can be time-consuming, but consider it. And, again, this goes back to the medication thing: once you get on a med that is actually working for you, you may find therapy more helpful.

      Also know that I’m seeing red with the unhelpful EAP. I mean, yeah, even mental health professionals drop balls (they are, after all, only human) but still.

    3. Harper the Other One*

      I’d like to second this from the perspective of someone whose partner has had over a decade of mental health struggles. Information about medications is changing all the time; new medications are often more effective and have fewer side effects. There are many forms of therapy and it can take a long time to find the right combination of therapy that works and a therapist you click with. In my partner’s case, there was also an additional diagnosis to be found (depression treatment is much more difficult when your OCD is untreated it turns out!) Today, he’s not PERFECT but even in his bad stretches he knows he’s a thousand times better off than he was in the past.

      LW2, you sound like things are really, really hard right now. I don’t want to discount that. But things maybe don’t have to be so hard. When I was encouraging my partner to keep seeking new options, I paralleled physical conditions: if he had a sore knee, and analgesics/icing didn’t help, he wouldn’t just live with the pain; he’d investigate physiotherapy, adjustments to his work chair, different medications, additional scans/tests. Mental health deserves the same persistence but one awful factor is that poor mental health makes it so much harder to pursue additional options.

      I hope you are able to get yourself to a better place.

    4. Elaine Benes*

      Yes, I was going to say this too (my experience was similar)- LW2, it sounds a bit like your depression-brain has decided there is nothing that will actually help you. Please override that part of your brain and try again!
      Keep in mind that all medications will do nothing for you until you find the one that does work for you, so please don’t decide that no meds will work just because previous ones haven’t. And a therapist may or may not solve much but it’s nice to have, because at a minimum you can hand off your mental health care to someone else to check in on every week or whatever. I know it’s hard to get the energy to work on the depression, but once you get somewhere with it, almost everything else in your life gets easier. It’s worth trying!!

    5. H.Regalis*

      “Your previous interactions with HR and the EAP were not positive, but your coworker has no way of knowing this.”

      That stuck out to me too. Since LW didn’t say so in the letter, I’m assuming they did not mention previous bad interactions with HR and EAP to their coworker, and so the coworker had no way of knowing this.

  22. it's-a-me*

    OP 4 could be a coworker of mine right now. If I was talking to said coworker, I would tell her to run without hesitation and never look back – the entire business is going to suffer from her departure and frankly it deserves to because they did nothing for months (years!) to help with her workload. She deserves to get out of here.

  23. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    OP5 – It’s a pet peeve of mine when people send me random job ads. If you can connect me with a hiring manager, maybe. But I’m looking for certain things in my next job, and your employees might be, too. I guess it’s a nice gesture but I’ve never found it particularly helpful.

    1. Colette*

      Someone’s manager is likely to know what skills they have and what jobs would be appropriate. That doesn’t mean the employee can’t want something else, but it’s more likely to be a relevant job posting than one you’d get from a friend in a different industry.

    2. urguncle*

      A manager who knows my skill set and intended career path giving (what I assume was) an internal job listing for another department is LOADS different than a casual friend sending me a job they think I might know something about.

  24. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1: the apology etc (which you’ve already done) is enough.
    On the other hand, IMO OPs manager owes OP (and the people who had to stay late) an apology, for setting them up to fail by giving them tasks they are out of their depth with at a “critical” time (rather than a time when things are less urgent).

    1. Squid*

      Absolutely. OP’s manager is the one who made the mistake here, not OP. And when OP has enough training and is ready to take on that work for real, they’re going to knock it out of the park and feel great about proving themselves capable.

    2. MicroManagered*

      Yep. I agree with this. People make mistakes at their job (including managers!) and sometimes those mistakes create more work for others. OP1 apologized and that is enough.

      It sets a weird precedent for OP to bring in muffins to apologize, but I could see the manager bringing in muffins or something as a goodwill gesture.

  25. MK*

    Eh, I assume they thought the OP wasn’t out of her depth? I don’t think apology is the right word.

  26. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP1 it doesn’t sound like these people plan their work very well if they are regularly having to stay late. This time it was because of you, but hey, you’re the noob.

    If I were your boss, I’d be cursing at myself and telling myself I seriously overestimated your abilities/forgot you had never done that work before or whatever. When a noob messes up, it might be their fault, but it is often the manager’s fault. Remember, they hired you, they thought you could learn the job. Even if you can’t learn it probably, that means they didn’t assess your skills and potential properly.

    I mean, I’ve had some great interns (those I was able to choose myself) and some terrible interns (those imposed on me or when there was no choice, just a random CV that landed on the boss’s desk at a time they were thinking of taking on an intern). Interns have always turned out as I expected – one did a bad test and turned out worse, another did a fair test and turned out brilliant, but all in all, no real surprises.

    1. STLBlues*

      Just sharing that this relies ENTIRELY on the job. I’ve had jobs before where we were extremely well-run, high functioning and…. still had to stay late on certain occasions for certain tasks. It was literally the ONLY WAY to get something done. In plant close finance, for example, the plant stopped at 5pm – and started the next day at 8am – and we needed to close the books in that time. You could have hired 50 people for the job of 4 and still, on those days, the only option was to stay late.

      So, just a call out to open your mind a bit that working late does not always = disfunction. It can, sure, but it definitely is not an automatic thing.

    2. Nanani*

      Eh, I wouldn’t go that far.
      Some jobs and fields have busy seasons or the flow of the kind of projects they do can mean regular hours up until the final stages when a lot of things come together at once.
      Its not automatically a sign of dysfunction or bad work planning, it can really just be part of the territory

  27. Bluesboy*

    # OP1
    I think the idea of bringing in muffins is a nice one, but I think it sets a precedent that could be difficult to get away from.

    I mean that you didn’t really do anything so terrible. You missed a deadline, sure, but not because you were lazy or incompetent, just because it was a bit much for a new employee.

    So you bring in muffins. You make another mistake (and you will, we all do). What do you do then? More muffins? What if this mistake is more serious? Do you need to bring in a bottle of wine for everyone?

    This might seem facetious, but think about this – what if your next mistake is the same level, or more serious and you DON’T bring in presents for all? The message it will send your boss is that you don’t think your mistake was that serious because everyone knows that when OP1 makes a mistake she brings in muffins – and she didn’t.

    You’ve already apologised, with what sounds like an appropriate level of seriousness for a mistake which isn’t really your fault that much. Move on and save the muffins for your friends!

  28. Turingtested*

    LW #2, I’m sorry you had such a bad experience.
    I’ve been on both sides (suffering from depression and coworkers divulging struggles to me) and it’s so hard to know what to do. I error on the side of trying to get the person help.

    I’m sure this wasn’t your intention but sometimes the mental health talk felt like there was an ulterior motive: to excuse lower performance; to get sympathy; or to avoid difficult conversations.

    It’s tough, because on one hand mental health shouldn’t be something shameful or hidden but it’s easy to inadvertently put the person you’re taking to in a bad spot.

  29. Green great dragon*

    #3 this may not fit your issues, but one option is to push people to a non-face to face option if you can, or put a little process in the way. If your response to someone popping in to ask for a new red pen is, every time, to say please email/put on the spreadsheet/write on the list outside my door the number of red pens you need, they will stop interrupting you for that.

    If it’s things they don’t actually need you for… well, when my team was drowning in work, every time someone emailed a new request, was asked for a deadline and a brief summary of the business need/expected benefits before we prioritised it. Now it’s relevant that each of these requests would have taken my team days or weeks to do, so 60 seconds of their time to write down why they needed it was a tiny thing to ask.

    More than half of those requests never came back.

    1. KateM*

      In your example, teachers will just buy their own red pens. As they probably already do with lots of other things…

    2. Antilles*

      I don’t think this works as well for tiny interruptions, because it can come off as overly bureaucratic and absurd to the person asking. What do you mean I have to fill out a form and produce business justification for a new pen? I have to pre-schedule a meeting with you to get you to spend 45 seconds signing an expense report? Is it really such a problem to answer my 2-minute question?
      Of course from OP3’s side, the problem isn’t any individual interruption, it’s the endless string – but the people asking are going to be very frustrated at OP if you’re making them jump through hoops for every trivial task.
      For bigger problems where we’re talking about days or weeks of work, it’s absolutely fair to expect someone to put forth 60 seconds of their effort for 5 days of your time…but not for minor interruptions.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Oh agreed, but it’s just about getting something proportionate. For a new pen – ‘write your name and number of pens on this list outside’ seems reasonable enough? But yes, arbitrary examples.

  30. Dumpster Fire*

    OP #3, if being accessible to teachers is part of your job, then you need to either be really responsive (as in, quickly responding to email requests even if just to find out when they’re available, and then working with that) or put up with having people at your door. Teachers generally have one time during the day to deal with all of the live interactions they have to have; they have no choice about when it is; and it’s spread across the day for the staff. It’s extremely frustrating when certain staff (that I’m supposed to interact with) are only available when I’m teaching, but then they’re out the door when the bell rings.

    1. OP #3*

      This is what I’m struggling with because I know their “free time” is limited. I am available unless I’m in a meeting with a supervisor and stay late so staff can come to my office if/as needed at the end of the day.

      1. Colette*

        Could you set aside specific blocks of time that cover the entire day? For example, “I’m available Monday and Wednesday mornings, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and Friday from 10 – 2”.

      2. Regular Human Accountant*

        I was in a similar position not long ago; my entire day was taken up with people on the phone or at my door, all day long. I ended up changing my hours slightly so that I came in earlier than anyone else, and blocked off some time each day when I would shut my door and focus. One day a week I would stay a couple of hours later than everyone else, and it was amazing how much I could accomplish in those two uninterrupted hours! I’m not sure any type of software will help you create the time you need; you may have to make an adjustment to your schedule just to allow yourself some quiet work time while still being available during “teacher hours.”

        You have my sympathies; this is a tough way to work!

    2. KateM*

      Yes, I was thinking the same about setting office hours – teachers tend to have very strict uninterruptable work blocks of time themselves, blocking time may mean that they just never can interact with OP#3.

      1. Mollie*

        I was thinking the same. Could you see if there are common themes to what people need and create proactive processes? I had a principal who created a parent center that handled copies and such. Another building had a regular restocking rotation, so I could fill out a form with what I needed and it was delivered. (I could still ask anytime but it prevented a lot of last minute stuff).

        There are also parents at home (like me) who would LOVE to help in situations like this. We’ve been in the field, we can’t commit to coming back full time right now, but we see and appreciate how much you all are doing and would love to support you. Maybe the PTA or a note in a parent newsletter for a volunteer might be helpful, depending on the types of requests you’re getting.

        I agree that setting regular hours that you can’t be interrupted will frustrate teachers. You could try a rotating time though, so it’s not always at the same teacher’s prep time

    3. Nanani*

      I was looking to see if anyone had responded along these lines.
      Office hours for teachers are unlikely to work – either they are in the classroom during the block, or all 20 will show at once if its something like the lunch hour.

      I think making things non-synchronous might be a better bet – emails and texts, dropping off physical forms instead of turning up just to sign a thing, basically anything that doesnt 100% require you to be in the same room, make it at least possible to do independently on each person’s schedule.

    4. Squid*

      I also wonder what the requests are that OP is getting that necessitates so many in-person visits – might there be an opportunity to push back and set boundaries/expectations for what needs to be an in-person conversation vs. an email? I would echo others here re: office hours, as well.

  31. Forrest*

    I imagine that my colleague who reported me had good intentions, but it is beyond me as to what good she thought could come of it.

    LW, it’s completely reasonable for your co-worker to have been seeking support for herself, not prioritising you. Receiving a disclosure of bad mental health which includes the line “not actively suicidal” is upsetting for many people, and she is not wrong for having sought support from the people who are supposed to be able to support in that situation. The fact that HR and the EAP are ineffective and unhelpful for you is crappy, but that’s not something you can hold your co-worker responsible for. She has the right to seek support after hearing something upsetting and she does not have a duty of confidentiality to you.

    I don’t mean this to shame you for making the disclosure or for the feelings that you are having. But I do think the expectations you had around confidentiality were unrealistic and unfair. Your co-worker’s feelings and needs on receiving this information also matter.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. It’s a lot to put on a co-worker. I know if someone told me what OP told the co-worker, I’d struggle with it, not knowing if I should tell someone or not. And there’s no way the co-worker would know OP had a bad experience previously with HR and the EAP. How could she possibly know that unless OP told her?

    2. unpleased*

      I will agree with this. None of my coworkers at my current job know that I lost a family member to death by suicide. It’s not germane. But it would absolutely color how I responded to the kind of disclosure LW2 made. My ability to feel supported and to know I had done everything I could in this situation would be of utmost importance to me. This would be particularly true if I were not especially close to said coworker and had not invited such a disclosure because I know what kinds of support I can and cannot offer based on my own history.

    3. Koala dreams*

      Thanks for saying this. You express it so much better that I would have. You never know what other people at work are going through.

    4. Testerbert*

      That’s my read on it as well. After all, going from “Oh, I’m struggling at the moment” to “Oh, I’m struggling at the moment but I’m not planning to kill myself” is a huge escalation for the average person. I’d likely do much the same as your colleague, reach out to my HR rep to ask what do I do if someone I work with mentions mental health issues and suicide to me. I may not be aware that you’d already tried to access support, I’m likely entirely unaware of how poor that support may have been, I’d just be focused on working out what I need to do to help.

    5. anonymous73*

      Yes to this. I am someone who has no experience with mental health issues (both personally and within my tribe), and am not one to share anyone’s personal business with others, BUT…if a colleague confided in me the issues that OP mentioned and SPECIFICALLY mentioned the word suicide (even if they said they weren’t suicidal), I wouldn’t just sit back and do nothing because I would be worried about them. IME, just because someone denies something does not make it true, and suicide is not a topic to be taken lightly.

  32. Tim C.*

    I have been in similar situation. I had to meet with my manager and let them know the condition is not sustainable. You will start making mistakes or get burned out. I fortunately have the support that I was given more help. You see it as “I have all day to do X, Y, and Z (as long as I am not interrupted)”. But in reality you are interrupted.

    What helped me get change from my management was I asked if addressing such interruptions are part of my job. I explained that I, nor could anyone, do this for long under such conditions.

  33. Mannheim Steamroller*

    OP #4…

    “My last day will be _________. If you keep harassing me to change it, then my last day will be moved to today.”

  34. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #5

    Before sending a job posting to your employee, think about how you think they’d handle something like that. Would they think you’re pushing them out, or do you think they would see it the way you intend it? If you send it, definitely add some context as to why you’re sending it and make it known you’re not trying to push them out.

    Some will seize the opportunity. But some people, no matter how much positive feedback you’ve given, no matter how many glowing reviews and promotions they’ve had, are always going to take their boss sending them a job posting poorly. I’ve had a couple direct reports like this. They absolutely would have taken this as me trying to push them out, even having explained why I was sending the posting.

    The reality at my small company is, while there is room for upward growth in general, there isn’t much room for it within my own department. If someone wants my position (dept. manager), it means they need to wait for me to leave. That could be a really long wait. So if I have someone who aspires to my position, I’m going to explain that if they want to do what I do, they’ll either need to wait until I leave, or they need to move on to another company. I explain I don’t want to lose them and I value them, but they’re not likely to get into my role for a long time since I have no plans to leave the company. I also ask if they’re interested in any other departments in the company and then connect them to the manager to do some job shadowing, just so they can get a taste of something different.

  35. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    I have told my manager repeatedly that this is not sustainable and I provided her with options to help (distribute a portion to another analyst, hire a lower-level person to help out, etc.). I’ve even asked why they did not backfill the other position. The company wanted to save money.

    Their actions are meeting consequences. Don’t take another bullet for them. They thought they could save money by screwing you over and now they are seeing that you can’t burn people out and expect it to be sustainable.
    Now whether they will learn the actual lesson instead of just denying it, who knows. But not your kettle of fish.
    I would suggest even if they offer you more money you should not do it because thats just kicking the can down the road where they will keep trying to string you along. But do remind them that their money saving measure has harmed your health and thats why your leaving. And you warned them but they didn’t hear you, they just wanted to save money.

  36. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I really empathise with OP2. I’ve had the ‘mental illness shared with HR and bad assumptions made’ thing happen too.

    In my case it was me foolishly saying that I had depression and schizophrenia to a previously trusted person at work, to explain why I was having a bit of trouble recently getting jobs done. They went straight to HR, said that they didn’t feel safe working with me as I was likely a danger to myself if not others.

    People started walking on eggshells around me, or watching me closely for any signs that they thought meant I was about to go nuts. Some outright avoided me, saying they just couldn’t handle working with someone unsafe.

    That was the one and only time I have ever said anything about my mental state suffering at work. Depression doesn’t equal suicide. Schizophrenia doesn’t equal attacking coworkers. But you try convincing others of that.

    I’m so, so sorry. They had good intentions but really uneducated ones. I couldn’t stick around in the firm where it happened to me (having pitying looks 24/7 gets old real fast) and left for another firm shortly after. It is entirely up to you if you decide to do the same but whatever you choose I really do wish you the best. Living with mental illness is a two pronged struggle against a) your brain and b) society.

    (Footnote: I am having a really not great time with my brain at the moment)

    1. Forrest*

      I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling at the moment– your words on here are always measured and thoughtful and I look forward to your comments. I hope your brain gives over soon.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, absolutely seconding this. I’ve missed your posts, Keymaster, and I hope you’ll feel better soon.

    2. Dino*

      Hey Keymaster, I’ve missed seeing your name around here. Sorry to hear about your brain, hope you start feeling better soon.

    3. Just my 4 cents*

      I’m terribly sorry this happened to you. Your old firm should have definitely put a stop to this type of behavior and educated your coworkers on mental illness with your permission of course.

      I once explained my situation like this – it seems we have a default “happiness” point, sort of like how most people have a typical weight. Nikki’s is super-happy, cheerful, etc. Mine is more like Eeyore or Droopy from Looney Toons. Doesn’t mean I’m having trouble – it’s just who I am.

  37. Asenath*

    #4 – Leave on schedule. You’ve given them plenty of warning that your work situation was untenable in the long term. And if you still feel like you owe them something – do you seriously believe that they’re going to find someone to replace you in that extra two weeks? Doing two jobs? If you agree to stay the extra time, you’re just going to find yourself pressured to stay on another two, and then another two. And it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a job lined up, or what you intend to do the Monday after your last day. You might be planning a mini-holiday at home. You won’t have any responsibilities to your former job after your last day.

    1. anonymous73*

      100%. Providing 2 weeks notice is not intended to find someone to hire and train them before you leave. That’s basically impossible. It’s to wrap things up, document processes, and reassign work to others. This is something bad management doesn’t seem to understand. They should always cross train team members and be prepared for someone to leave, whether it’s for an extended time period or permanently.

  38. pierrot*

    LW2, I am sorry you are going through this. I have Bipolar Disorder and recently came out of a bout of depression that my work situation was definitely contributing to. I understand why you are upset about what transpired with your coworker. At the same time, I think that what happened demonstrates why it’s important to have some boundaries around how you discuss personal stuff around coworkers. It’s not that you should feel ashamed of your experiences with mental illness- it’s just that mental health can be a fraught topic and when it comes to the people you work with, you don’t know what experiences/viewpoints they’re bringing to the table.

    TW- suicide attempt
    About a year ago, a very close friend of mine who lives out of state sent me some worrying texts late at night. We had a whole conversation, but I went to bed feeling very concerned about her. That next morning, she attempted suicide and ended up in the hospital. Fortunately she survived. In the aftermath of that, I wondered if I should have done more after the conversation I had had with her in the middle of the night. She didn’t explicitly state that she was suicidal, but I could read between the lines and was wondering if I should have reached out to her live in partner or done something else. Ultimately she survived and she is doing much better now, but that event was really scary. If around that time a coworker reached out to me and disclosed that they were very depressed, even if they said they weren’t suicidal, I think that what happened to my friend would have been at the forefront of my mind. I probably wouldn’t have reached out to HR immediately, but I would definitely worry a lot about the coworker.

    Perhaps the coworker you work with has a relative or close friend who has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation , or maybe someone close to them has completed suicide. Your conversation with her might have brought up a lot of anxiety for these or other reasons, and she wanted to loop someone in who she felt was better equipped to help. She’s not a mental health professional, and maybe in her personal life she has experienced times when someone confided in her and she felt that she didn’t do enough to “help” and the situation got worse. I know this is all just speculation, but these types of experiences are pretty common.

    1. Silly Janet*

      I’m so glad your friend was okay. I have lost two friends to suicide and one was a coworker. In one of the cases in particular I felt my husband and I (he was more my husband’s friend) got signs that we should have taken more seriously. I will always err on the side of being more cautious in the future. It sucks that HR and the EAP departments are so incompetent, but that isn’t the coworker’s fault. It was a lot to take in and I’m sure she thought she was doing the right thing.

    2. londonedit*

      I’m glad your friend was OK too. A friend’s husband took his own life a few years ago and it was the classic ‘He seemed to have it all, anyone would have thought his life was perfect, no one had a clue he was feeling like that’ thing. Which has definitely made me and everyone else connected to my friend more alert to people’s mental health and more alert to any possible signs of struggle. It’s difficult when someone discloses that they’re not in a good place mentally and then shoots down any suggestions you make – I also have a friend who’s in a never-ending cycle of posting online saying she’s feeling incredibly depressed and hopeless, and when people say please speak to a doctor/therapist/look into some medication, the response is ‘Doctors are useless, I tried therapy 10 years ago and it didn’t work, I tried one medication once and it didn’t work, therefore nothing works, therefore I just have to suffer’. With that friend I just think ‘Well, that’s just Jane doing what Jane does’, but I also worry that one day maybe it won’t just be Jane doing what Jane does, it’ll be a real cry for help and no one will respond. If it was someone at work, I definitely wouldn’t feel equipped to deal with it and I’d definitely try to find some sort of support. Yes, that might come across as ‘interfering’ or ‘overreacting’ but I’m not sure what else the co-worker was meant to do. There’s always the fear of something awful happening.

  39. 653-CXK*

    OP#3: Oh boy…this hits close to home.

    We’re willing to sacrifice our work and accept disruptions to help others, and then we’re forced to catch up later on. I could be knee-deep in something that requires total concentration, and it all goes to seed when a simple “can you look at this for me?” request turns into a four hour cavalcade of calls, research, and emails. Then it takes at least two hours to get back into the rhythm before another disruption occurs.

    When the disruptions mar your work and cause it to pile up, that’s when you start enforcing boundaries and being a little less accessible. It means putting on Do Not Disturb on your phone, Teams and Zoom, telling people No or Not Right Now (in a business-like way), shutting the door to your office, and setting a time block where you cannot be disrupted. When you’ve completed your work, then you can return to your normal status.

  40. I just work here*

    I would ask OP 2 to consider how their disclosure affected their co-worker. That’s a lot to lay on a work colleague and it sounds like this person cared about your well-being. I have had 2 close friends commit suicide, and I can assure you that when people use the suicide word in a conversation with me about how they are feeling, my alarm bells kick into overdrive.

    You may have felt better sharing that information, but it scared your colleague.

  41. A*

    While I get that the coworker from #2 might not have felt equipped for that conversation, as someone who’s been discriminated against at work due to mental health issues, I think telling HR by name even if well intentioned is opening the OP up to risk. My advice would have been to ask HR for the information anonymously and give it to OP rather than opening them up to the risk that their company perceives them as a liability in the future.

    1. Colette*

      The person who opened the OP up to risk was the OP. She’s the one who mentioned she was struggling with mental illness, said she was not seeking help, and then mentioned suicide. That’s alarming, and it’s not reasonable to expect the coworker to keep it to herself.

      1. A*

        No one said it was. In fact I agree with you that it was not a well thought out thing to do to tell coworkers. I’m just pointing out that outing one’s coworkers as mentally ill to HR is something that opens them up to risk, because people who haven’t experienced discrimination due to mental illness might not have thought of it that way.

        More than one person can handle a situation in a less than optimal way, like in this case imo.

        1. Colette*

          I’m not sure what would have been a better thing for the coworker to do, though. Ignore that her coworker has an untreated mental illness and is thinking about suicide (even if she’s not suicidal)? Try to figure out who the OP’s emergency contact is and contact them? Call 911? I don’t think any of those are better than what she did.

          What would you suggest?

          1. HungryLawyer*

            Co-worker could have, ya know, talked to OP and clearly expressed their concerns before making the HR report. “Hey OP, I know you said you’re *not* feeling suicidal but I also know you’re not doing well. Wanted to share some EAP resources here and let you know I’m thinking about you. If things get worse, please reach out to me [if co-worker is comfortable w/ that] or someone in HR who could help.” That would lay the options out for OP so they could make an informed decision as an adult.

            1. Colette*

              But I think that puts the coworker in a postiion of being way too involved in the OP’s mental health. I’ll be honest – if a coworker is struggling with their mental health, I want them to talk to a professional, not to me. I am not qualified to help them, and I have my own stuff to deal with.

              I don’t want to be involved in their mental health, the same way I don’t want them to tell me the details of their health, financial, or relationship problems. I don’t have the ability to help with any of those problems, and it’s not an appropriate request to make of a coworker.

              In this case, the coworker suggested two options (therapy and medication), and the OP rejected them. If I were in the coworker’s shoes, I’d be pretty convinced that the OP was seriously ill, and that she wasn’t going to seek help on her own.

            2. unaccountably*

              They work at the same company, so presumably there wouldn’t be anything the co-worker could have told the OP about the EAP that OP didn’t know, or couldn’t find out, for herself. Like you said, OP is an adult, and as someone employed at that company has already been informed about the EAP just as much as the co-worker has.

  42. Nikki*

    LW2: I’m really struck by the fact that you say that you’re a private person but still divulged very private things to someone at work who, it seems, you’re not particularly close to. That makes me wonder if you don’t have anyone in your personal life to talk to about how you’re doing. You seem pretty sure that therapy won’t help right now, but maybe you need to change your expectations a bit. Instead of looking at therapy as something that’s meant to make you all better, you can think of it as someone to talk to about how you’re doing. It may or may not make a huge difference in your life, but at the very least it would give you an outlet for these kinds of conversations so you’re not sharing these kinds of things with coworkers anymore.

    1. Squid*

      You may be right – OP could very well be severely lacking in terms of a support system and needs to seek one out.

    2. BigHairNoHeart*

      This is a very good suggestion, I hope OP takes it to heart. I’m not currently in therapy, but when I’ve used it in the past, I always felt like the best thing about it was the chance to talk about what was going on with someone else. Even if they couldn’t help or make it better, it was a judgement free zone to discuss what I felt. That’s so valuable. OP, if you’d like to be open about your mental health with someone else, but you’re worried about talking to friends/coworkers in the future because of situations like this, therapy might really be a great solution!

      1. Liz Lemon*

        Yes! I really value therapy as a place I can vent and say “this really sucks” and get sympathy and confirmation that something does indeed, suck, even if there’s nothing my therapist or I can do about it. What’s more, therapists are equipped to hear “I’m feeling pretty bad lately but I’m not suicidal currently” and really understand it, and be in a position to evaluate what you’re saying and know when (if at all) action needs to be taken.

  43. Empress Ki*

    2# Your co-worker should have told you she would disclose her concerns to HR.
    I work in safeguarding and we always inform the person of the disclosure.We don’t disclose concerns behind their backs !
    Aldo, she shouldn’t have told your peers. HR and your peers are 2 different things. If you are in the UK you can contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau for advice on this matter.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      Excepting someone to follow safeguarding guidelines, when there’s no indication they’ve had the training or even have any safeguarding responsibilities is ludicrous.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        Agree- but thank you Empress Ki for mentioning safeguarding! I hadn’t heard that term before and am looking it up so at least this untrained person will be better equipped if the situation arises.

      2. Imprudence*

        But in some settings in the UK, everyone has the responsibility to pass it onto the responsible person — because there have been so many cases of things slipping through gaps. The responsible person in the institution is responsible and trained to join up the dots. And it isn’t just for children — it can also be for adults who are deemed vulnerable (because of their poor mental health for example). So it may even have been, depending on the setting, a disciplinary matter for the colleague NOT to pass it on to HR, if that is where the responsibility sits.)

        1. Forrest*

          Those systems are usually related to dealing with specific vulnerable groups, however– I don’t know whether there’s anywhere where a colleague disclosing a mental health problem as part of an informal conversation would create a requirement to report it. But I also don’t know of any setting where it would create a duty of confidentiality either.

        2. LDN Layabout*

          But there’s literally no indication that safeguarding applies in this particular situation. So saying LW’s co-worker should be following those guidelines really isn’t helpful.

      3. Empress Ki*

        Even without training, I think informing someone you have to disclose what they told because you are concerned is basic respect.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          I disagree. If someone needs to contact a resource because they’re worried or unsure of how to address an issue, you can’t also expect them to know to inform the person as well.

    2. Pocket Mouse*

      We don’t know if the coworker told peers. At the time of letter-writing, OP had only disclosed the situation to the coworker the day before. If I were the coworker and had contacted HR, I would definitely not be telling other peers—unless as time went on it looked from the outside like things were getting worse, and then only in a general way to fortify supports (e.g. “I’ve noticed/gotten the impression X, I’m worried about Y, if we notice Z I think we should be ready to do/offer A, B, and C.”) It’s much more likely, as others have written above, that peers have noticed changes in OP themselves.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I’m inclined to agree that issues may have been obvious to others who work with the OP.

    3. Observer*

      I work in safeguarding and we always inform the person of the disclosure.We don’t disclose concerns behind their backs !

      You’re expecting an untrained layperson to maintain standards of a very specific field of practice. That’s unreasonable, unrealistic and really unhelpful to the OP.

      Aldo, she shouldn’t have told your peers.

      You don’t know that she did tell her peers – the OP “suspects” that she might have. And even if she did talk to peers, you don’t know what she said or why.

      If you are in the UK you can contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau for advice on this matter.

      Jumping to legal action here is not going to be helpful to the OP, imo. And to be honest, there is nothing here to do, from the legal POV. I’m pretty sure that none of the privacy legislation would apply to this aspect of the situation.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Not to mention, CAB have fairly narrow areas of expertise -and often are only available at certain times , it could easily take days to get a response and that response might simply be to suggest that you give your co-worker the number of the Samaritans or encourage them to speak to their GP.
        (I think the CAB do very useful work, but I don’t think this is the sort of situation where they would be particularly helpful )

  44. Gawaine42*

    OP #5: Be careful here. It may be construed as acting against the interests of your employer, which is both a tort under common law in the US, as well as just cause for termination, if you’re at a company that is aware enough to care about this.

  45. 5Cats&Counting*

    #3 I totally feel for you as that is my day in a nutshell! I have been told by mgmt that its the way it is and suck it up, buttercup: “They are on their planning period…they aren’t organized…they aren’t able to figure this out”…very condescending for both sides, if you ask me. I hope for your sake you are able to utilize Alison’s advice as it would be helpful for everyone!

    1. Nanani*

      I mean, teachers who need to be in class/supervising the kids at recess really truly can only come see you in their planning period. That’s literally how their job works.

      (I’m assuming these are K-12 since we’re saying “teacher” and not “professor” or “instructor” but ignore that part if it’s post-secondary)

      1. anonymous73*

        So that means it’s okay to interrupt someone else’s work at the time that’s convenient for YOU? There has to be a better way, and expecting OP to drop everything multiple times a day for everyone else’s convenience, is not a solution.

        1. Jerusha*

          If Nanani is right and we’re talking elementary/secondary education, it’s not so much that it’s the time that’s _convenient_ for you, it’s literally the only time that’s _possible_ for you. Your choices are “before the start of the school day (assuming that both of you are there and neither of you has responsibilities during that time)”, “after the end of the school day (assuming that both of you can stay and neither of you has responsibilities during that time)”, or “during your prep period, whenever in the day that happens to fall”. Because you cannot just leave the class you’re teaching, leaving your students unsupervised, to go meet with the Operations Director.

          I could see an office hours scenario working, if you could ensure both of the following:
          1) You’re able to schedule a selection of office hours such that every single teacher has at least one prep/week that overlaps with one of your office hours. This could be anything from easy to insurmountable depending on how your school does scheduling.
          2) All of the problems you’re being asked to deal with can wait for up to a week* for resolution, or you have a separate way to quickly address problems that need faster resolution AND a way to make sure that only the urgent problems get sent down this pathway
          *or whatever interval you can work out in #1 – if you can overlap with every teacher at least twice per week, then problems would only need to wait for half a week)

          You might also be able to do it on a block basis by days. For example, maybe your door is open to drop-ins all day M/W/F, but T/H you are available only by email, with a reply by the end of the day, but aren’t available for drop-ins? That would let you check your email 3-4 times during the day, but have blocks of focus time between batches of email.

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Unfortunately, it isn’t a question of convenience. K-12 teachers in many jurisdictions aren’t legally allowed to leave students unsupervised (and often leaving them with a paraprofessional doesn’t count as supervised under the legal definition). Teachers have notoriously weird bathroom habits for just this reason (we have to hold it until lunch, prep or after school in extreme cases). I’ll choose to run a professional risk to make a few more copies or (very occasionally) to pee, but leaving for an indeterminate amount of time to meet with OP is a non-starter, unfortunately.

          OP, is it possible to shift your schedule around to make office hours available before and after school. That might let you block off time during the day with out leaving the teachers stranded.

        3. Teaching Tiny Thinkers*

          It’s not that it’s “convenient”, it’s that as a teacher my planning period is LITERALLY the only possible time I can do so. I have NO other time available. So if your job is to support my work? Yes, I will be coming to see you in my planning period, and you will have to deal.

        4. biobotb*

          If it’s the OP’s job to help teachers, then yes, they need to help teachers during the only time the teachers are able to reach out for that help.

  46. CheesePlease*

    OP#2 – I’m very sorry to hear you’re struggling with your mental health. It’s clear you trusted this coworker and their actions betrayed your trust. It can be tricky when personal and professional conversations get mixed – this was a personal conversation in a professional setting with a professional relationship. I’m pretty sure that as someone who has referred employees to EAP before, the thinking was “it can’t hurt to help them know about resources”. Often in my own journey with mental health it takes multiple people encouraging me to seek help to actually do it – and it sounds like if you disclosed that therapy and medication did not work, but you are not doing better, they felt they had to do something. It’s also even possible they went to HR asking: “how can I help this coworker I want to see succeed?” not expecting HR to reach out to you! They may have done this under the pretense of making HR aware you may need extra support later (ex: flexible deadline or work hours) so they could help in more practical ways.

    It’s unfortunate they referred you to resources that could not help / have proven frustrating. It’s very hard to want help, be seeking help, and for organizations (like EAP) who claim to help leave you in a lurch. It sounds like their actions unknowingly touched a sore point. Please try not to cast blame on them for this. It’s a big thing in my mental health to assume the worst from people and fall into catastrophic thought patterns (they will fire me, everyone is trying to hurt me, nobody can actually help me, they all think I’m crazy etc) which isn’t true – that’s my anxiety brain! I need therapy to help me things for what they really are. I hope you get the help and support you need. There is hope.

  47. Bethie*

    For the last OP with the question about sending job announcements to satff – my boss does this and I love her for it! Up until last year, there was no moving upward for me in my division. I love my job and the people here – but she knew I could/wanted to do more. I interviewed for one she sent my way, but it just wasnt the right fit. Since then she fought to get me a working out of class position (with additional pay) for the foreseeable future. I serve on a federal board that normally she would, but I am the SME on the subject. Its all a great learning experience and great for my resume. I am glad she cares!

  48. anonymous73*

    #4 repeat to yourself until you believe it… “This is NOT my problem to solve.”

    Just say no. You don’t need to give them a reason why and it doesn’t matter that you don’t have another job to start right away. You’ve given them plenty of warning that you were burned out and they chose not to do anything to resolve it. It is the job of management to be prepared for anyone to leave at any time. Clearly they’re not doing their job. If – and ONLY if – you would be willing to stay for more money, tell them you would be willing to work as a contractor for double your hourly rate. After all you’ve been doing the work of 2 people. Let them pay for it! And if by some crazy chance they agree to your terms, an actual legal document needs to be created and signed by both parties. Do NOT trust a verbal agreement.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I once worked a job like this and did offer to stay on as a freelancer for a freelance rate. It worked for a few weeks until they couldn’t afford to pay me! Lol! But it is an option.

      It sounds like OP is ready to move on though. I’m not hearing that they “loved their job but” for the hours.

      1. anonymous73*

        I agree. My suggestion was more for the OP to call their bluff (which is why I emphasized the part about being willing to do so). Because in most cases if you give them an option only if they double your salary, they’re going to say no.

        1. Jerusha*

          Actually, if you were to go for this (and I wouldn’t recommend it!), I’d say 4x your currently hourly rate is the minimum you should accept. My thinking is that a) you need to be compensated for both jobs, and b) the recommendation for contractor rate is usually 2-3x the hourly rate of a salaried employee, to make up for the lack of benefits and the additional tax burden.

          But I’m not sure it would be worth it for any amount of money (or at least any amount they’d be willing to pay, given that they’ve already cheaped out by leaving the other position unfilled). They’ve spent the last year making their bed, stalwartly ignoring the warnings you’ve tried to give them about how badly they’ve been building it. And now it’s time for them to lie down in it. If they wouldn’t listen to you for the last year, why would you think that they’ll fix their construction mistakes if you just give them a little more time?

  49. Maxie's Mommy*

    OP#4, You could offer to stay but only doing the duties of your original job: “I will do A, B and C, but not X, Y or Z. You’ll have go figure those out on your own, reassign those duties, or get a temp in.” And get it in writing—a company that will whip the horse til it drops won’t hesitate to renege on an agreement. I know you like your manager but she let them do this to you—stand firm in whatever you choose to do.

    1. Observer*

      I would not do this. These are not people who are open to hearing this. They ARE open to pressuring the OP into doing more than is reasonable, and trying to use guilt in the process. Which means that they will make all the promises and the still expect the OP to make magic and act all upset when they can’t.

  50. Just Me*

    OP #2 I was in your same position a few years ago. I do understand an earlier commenter suggesting that you consider how that disclosure would have affected your coworker, but having been there I know that that doesn’t quite cross your mind when you’re dealing with depression–you’re more thinking, “This is what it is, why sugar coat it?” Alison is right that you don’t have to talk to HR or use the work EAP, *but* since the feelings (or lack of feelings sometimes) are affecting work (even if work sucks and it feels like it doesn’t matter) it could be worth seeking treatment options. (In my case, I had a coworker who was a psychologist and she just called me out as having high functioning anxiety and depression in the middle of a meeting, which was super awkward.) Just know that you don’t have to feel this way.

  51. Testerbert*

    LW4: Alison’s advice is good for a graceful, respectful exit. Personally, I’d be much less kind. They’ve piled more work onto you, ignored your warnings about the problem, and are now expecting you to bail them out of a situation entirely of their own making.

    Tell them that they can invest the money saved from your previous colleague’s wages into expediting their search for your replacement.

  52. Dr. Rebecca*

    LW2, I’m not going to parse what was said or done by your colleague in your situation, just comment on something I learned (also occasionally being passively suicidal): If you don’t want people to comment/have opinions on your mental health, don’t discuss your mental health with them. Once you put the info out there, what they do with it is out of your hands.

  53. Trek*

    Anyone else tempted to tell boss in OP4 ‘But think about how much money you’ll save by not replacing me or the other analyst?’ Probably not the best thing to say but wow, companies who intentionally don’t hire a replacement and places all their work on one other person deserve to lose people.


    Don’t put the burden of your mental health on your coworkers, work is not the appropriate place to talk about this. As someone who deals with their own depression and suicidal thoughts, having a coworker go into detail about their mental health issues has made my own worse and makes me actively avoid them. I need to take care of myself and have enough on my plate without someone else adding to it.

    If a coworker repeatedly talked about their depression while saying treatment doesn’t work I would definitely tell HR.

  55. Nathan*

    I juggle several chronic (physical) conditions. A few of my coworkers know about them. Most are really great, respect my privacy, and express sympathy without going overboard.

    Occasionally I get someone who feels they know better than I do how to manage my conditions. I’ve even had managers try to take me off normal work duties for fear that it would make one of my conditions worse. I understand that it comes from a place of concern about my well-being, but man does it feel both condescending and boundary-violating for a workmate to act like he or she knows best. If someone reported me to HR or my manager for not managing MY ISSUE in the way they thought best, I’m pretty sure I would stop talking to that person at all outside of professional necessity.

    People also seem to be getting hung up on the “I’m not suicidal” phrasing. I completely understand why you’d say something like that — you are anticipating and (in your mind) getting out in front of the possibility / probability that your coworker will think that this issue is more serious than it is. This is how people with chronic conditions think — we grade our experience on a spectrum between asymptomatic and worst-case scenario. People might say “living with Crohn’s Disease is annoying, but at least I haven’t had to have surgery yet” or “my blood sugar is high right now, but I just took my insulin. Don’t worry — I’m not about to go into a coma”. How insane would someone look if they heard that and immediately thought “Bob mentioned going into a coma. Better tell HR he’s not managing his diabetes well”? Yet that’s basically what your coworker did to you and folks here are ready to give that person a dang award.

    If there’s anything we can learn from this thread, I suspect it’s that people who have not been in your shoes will not understand why this seems like such a problem to you. Perhaps that will help you navigate the question of whether to bring this up to your coworker and how to frame that conversation if you do have it.

    Many people feel like we’re “just existing” right now, and you are not alone. I hope things get better soon!

    1. Squid*

      While I don’t totally disagree with you (I’ve got some “fun” conditions, too, so I get it), I think we need to remember that there is unfortunately a different perception of visible illnesses/disabilities vs. those that are hidden (which mental health often is). So whereas saying something offhand, flippant, or joking about a visible illness is often seen as just that, something similar about mental health isn’t usually interpreted as such. I’m not saying this is how things should be, but rather how they are.

      So when OP said they weren’t suicidal, the coworker may have a) seen that as coming out of nowhere/an actual cry for help, b) been reminded of someone else they know who has said something similar but actually turned out to be suicidal, and/or c) been wildly uncomfortable with where the conversation went/was going and didn’t know what else to do.

      With a visible illness, or at least one that someone is open about (OP seems to waffle between being private and laying it all out there), comments like “don’t worry, X isn’t going to happen” is easier for someone to observe and be reassured about. With mental health, it’s harder to know how someone is actually doing purely by observation (particularly if the conversation and future interactions are virtual in nature).

    2. Dinwar*

      Yeah, the response to this letter is…depressing. The general attitude expressed in this comments section is exactly why many people do not feel comfortable discussing mental health, and is a major contributing factor the continued stigma associated with mental health issues.

      1. londonedit*

        But then what are people actually supposed to do? I have a friend who frequently posts on social media saying she feels hopeless and worthless and there doesn’t seem to be any point to life. People reply offering support and she doesn’t want it, people suggest speaking to a doctor/therapist/looking into medication and she dismisses it out of hand. I’ve got to the point, after many years, where I just don’t bother trying to help her anymore. Is that the right thing to do? If she ends up dead because everyone gave up on trying to help her (after years of having any suggestion rejected) then did we all do the right thing? If people just said ‘Yeah, sorry, that sucks’ and left the OP to it, wouldn’t they be raging at a lack of support for mental health in society and feeling like no one cared about them?

        1. Anon all day*

          Yeah, I’m not sure what’s expected if it’s not what the coworker did. If a coworker brought up suicide to me, am I just to act as a sounding board? That’s not fair to me.

          Like, seriously, the only suggestions I have seen as alternatives to what the coworker did are either “inform OP of the EAP” or “find outside resources.” It doesn’t seem like OP made any indications that the first one would have been useful to them. And for the second one, what does at mean? I would have no idea where to go.

        2. Bagpuss*

          Yes, I think that’s the really difficult thing here – what would the right response be? What was LW hoping for when she spoke to her coworker? And even then, there’s the issue that what she may have preferred isn’t necessarily the right answer for another person in a similar situation.

          And of course, someone in that situation is often not going to have the mental /emotional energy to be able to identify and communicate what they need or what might help, and inevitably others (even others who have had similar experiences themselves) are not always going to guess correctly what would be a helpful response.

          1. WhatAmIMissingHere*

            At some point, co-worker probably should have taken OP at their word that they were not in immediate danger. Everyone keeps talking about the burden on the co-worker but this really wasn’t about them. Share resources, offer support, and the move on. That’s what the co-worker should have done *because* they are not friends with OP. Without the personal relationship, co-worker is rightfully limited in how much they can/should do. Totally different scenario than wanting to support a friend or loved one who’s struggling.

            1. Forrest*

              Why the heck was it not about them? Who gets to decide that only LW’s experience matters here?

            2. unaccountably*

              Actually it is about the co-worker – to the co-worker. It became about her the minute OP decided to disclose information that the co-worker found alarming. She’s half of this experience, she gets to have thoughts and feelings about it. One of the thoughts and feelings she gets to have is that she’s not going to enmesh herself any further in a disclosure that she didn’t ask for or want, and that she’s going to request help from someone who presumably has better access to resources.

              1. JM60*

                I think you should consider the above analogy of the diabetic coworker in a coma to what you wrote here. Sure, the coworker can have internal thoughts and emotions about the diabetic coworker going into a coma due to uncontrolled diabetes. They get to not want to be enmeshed in the diabetic employee’s health issues. But they generally should not inform HR about the employee’s uncontrolled diabetes (or in this case, mental health issues) without the OP’s consent.

                Some things they can do is point the employee with the problems to resources that the employer offers (and leave it up to the employee whether or not to pursue such resources) or to request help from outside organizations that can offer mental health help.

      2. Software Dev (she/her)*

        Yeah, I do feel like some of the comments here show the wide gap between how we handle mental vs physical health. Most people know how annoying it is to tell a coworker about a medical condition and get a lot of advice, most of which they may have already tried or is inapplicable. Often, people are just trying to make a connection, get sympathy or explain why they may not be working to their best capacity on a particular day when they talk about this stuff. But with mental health, there seems to be this assumption that we must intervene on behalf of others. There is a lot of discussion of what the right thing for the coworker to do was, and I suspect it was to say “wow that sounds really hard, I’m sorry you’re going through that” and leave it at that. But its also hard to know exactly what was said by the coworker.

    3. Observer*

      If there’s anything we can learn from this thread, I suspect it’s that people who have not been in your shoes will not understand why this seems like such a problem to you. Perhaps that will help you navigate the question of whether to bring this up to your coworker and how to frame that conversation if you do have it.

      Oh, most of us understand the problem. But also, most of understand that the CW did the best she could under the circumstances.

      As someone with a chronic condition, grew up with some people with fairly intrusive chronic conditions, and married to someone with a much more intrusive chronic condition, I actually disagree with you about how people with chronic conditions generally talk about their conditions. I’m not saying that NO ONE ever talks the way you described, but in my experience, it’s extremely uncommon for people jump to “need / don’t need surgery” or “don’t worry not about to go into a coma” in a normal conversation. So, I do believe you that you do say that kind of thing routinely, but it does seem like an outlier.

      It’s also worth noting that actually bringing up suicide, even while saying “I’m not suicidal” *IS* a bad sign. Because unless someone else brought it up, it’s a sign of suicidal ideation, which IS a significant issue.

      1. Nathan*

        Everyone’s lived experience is different, though I’m surprised you haven’t heard anyone say something like “I’m having a flare-up right now, but I can keep going” or “I’m struggling with X, though it’s not to the point where I have to go to the hospital”. I think it’s normal and helpful to provide context — I wouldn’t expect someone who’s not familiar with the condition to know what’s a more normal level of bad and what’s genuinely alarming. Perhaps you haven’t heard that context because the people close to you already expect you to have that information, or perhaps it’s a cultural difference.

        In any case, I can see how it would be very frustrating to communicate “things are not good right now, but not to the level where it would be alarming” and have the person I’m talking to immediately jump to “THE ALARMING THING MUST BE TRUE”.

        1. Observer*

          though I’m surprised you haven’t heard anyone say something like ~~snip~~ “I’m struggling with X, though it’s not to the point where I have to go to the hospital”.

          Oh, I’ve heard that. But never as a casual comment to people who were not REALLY familiar with the situation. Only in contexts where someone really was doing pretty badly or really, really looked like it. Or between people who already had a good idea of whether “I don’t need the hospital” means “Eh, things are not as bad as I look” vs “Yeah, it’s bad but you don’t need to call the ambulance yet.”

          In any case, I can see how it would be very frustrating to communicate “things are not good right now, but not to the level where it would be alarming” and have the person I’m talking to immediately jump to “THE ALARMING THING MUST BE TRUE”.

          I can see that too. But it’s also important to understand that this sometimes happens not because the person listening is stupid, or over-reacting. Also, I don’t think that people are necessarily saying that the OP *IS* suicidal, just that their mentioning is does actually legitimately raise a red flag that SOMETHING is seriously that matter. And let’s be honest here. While it doesn’t sound like the OP is in active danger right now, something really is very wrong. And it’s almost certainly something that others are seeing even if they don’t really understand what they are seeing.

      2. WhatAmIMissingHere*

        No, it’s not always a bad sign when someone says “I’m not suicidal.” Obviously, OP was trying to avoid this exact scenario by letting their co-worker know they were not in immediate danger. Co-worker should have taken OP at their word.

        1. Observer*

          It’s not ALWAYS a bad sign, but it usually is. And even if the CW could trust that the OP is not actively suicidal, they don’t really know what that means in most cases. The fact the suicide was brought up generally DOES mean that it’s part of that person’s thought process and that’ usually a sign of trouble.

          Expecting someone to ignore that is jut not reasonable.

          1. WhatAmIMissingHere*

            You’re the one who said it was always a bad sign, and you’re wrong. If a co-worker tells you they’re not suicidal, believe them! Taking someone at their word is reasonable especially if you don’t have the context of a personal relationship.

            1. Rocket*

              If we don’t have the context of a personal relationship, why are you bringing up suicide with me?

          2. Anon all day*

            AND, the consequences here of taking OP at their word and getting it wrong are extreme and final. That’s really the underlying thing. Many people would rather misstep in favor of preventing death.

    4. Soup of the Day*

      I don’t think this comparison is accurate. In this case it would be like “my blood sugar is high right now, but insulin hasn’t worked for me in the past and doctors haven’t been helpful so I’m not going to do anything about it.” I would be concerned if a coworker said something like that to me, but even then there’s not much I can do about it. In the OP’s case, there WAS something the coworker could do about it, so they did it. From the OP’s perspective it might have been the wrong thing, but you can’t blame someone for acting on information you freely gave them.

      Many people have struggled with mental illness in one form or another, and no one is saying that OP shouldn’t reach out for help, but a coworker is really not the person to talk to about serious personal issues.

    5. Ray Gillette*

      I don’t see anyone giving the coworker awards, I see a lot of people pointing out that LW put her in an uncomfortable position and she did the best she could with limited information.

    6. Delphine*

      I completely disagree with this take, primarily because suicidal ideation is not the same thing as the possibility of a diabetic coma or any other terrible outcome due to a chronic illness. There is a difference between, “My blood sugar is high right now, but I just took my insulin. Don’t worry — I’m not about to go into a coma,” and “I’m not doing great, meds and therapy aren’t helping, but don’t worry I don’t have any plans to kill myself.” These are completely incomparable situations.

      Maybe the fact is that people who have been in the same shoes–struggling with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, rather than chronic physical conditions–*are* understanding why the LW was upset about this, but are also understanding with the coworker felt she had to say something.

      1. Mauvaise Pomme*

        Yes to your first paragraph! If making a comparison with a physical malady, it would be more analogous to seeing a colleague with a peanut allergy unknowingly standing directly next to someone munching on a PB&J and then a minute later, hearing them say, “Yeah, my tongue is swelling rapidly, and it’s getting harder to breathe, but don’t worry, I’ll be fine!” It would be natural for someone to be alarmed and upset by witnessing that situation. In fact, taking the sick colleague at their word in that situation and leaving them alone would be terribly negligent.

        1. Nathan*

          I…don’t feel like those are analogous situations at all.

          You are assuming you know something about another person’s condition that they do not know or are in denial about. Not only is this quite condescending, it disempowers the other person! The very example you are using demonstrates this problem — you think you have more insight into the situation than the person who is living it.

          At this point I feel like we’d need more specifics than we were given in order to make a definite call. But I really wanted to provide some perspective on why I think the coworker went overboard, and why I think that’s more problematic than the “better safe than sorry” commenters seem to think it is. If you disagree, that’s fine. Continue to err on the side of caution, but recognize that you may alienate your coworkers and friends by doing so.

    7. Critical Rolls*

      You’re framing this as though the coworker “tattled” to HR to try and get LW in trouble, or out of sheer know-it-all overstepping. But LW put the coworker in a situation where they had good reason to be concerned (low point, no treatment, unprompted mention of suicidal ideation) and coworker had to decide what to do with that. If you don’t want to rely on your coworkers’ judgment on that… don’t tell them!

      And, as someone with a couple diabetic friends, it would not be normal for them to joke about comas at work, because they discuss it very minimally in general and don’t create openings for people to stick their oars in.

      1. WhatAmIMissingHere*

        Co-worker did tattle though, despite being well-intentioned. Reporting something to HR that does not affect your safety or ability to do your job while also risking someone else’s job is the definition of tattling.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          Going to HR because your coworker has made you very concerned about their mental health and you don’t know what to do is NOT tattling, a term that has a very vindictive implication, especially since we have no idea what that conversation looked like. And it’s a huge, huge leap that the coworker had any reason to think LW’s job would be at risk. And in fact, the LW’s job appears not to be at risk, except from themselves if they quit.

          I would further argue that if the LW is so upset over this that they don’t think they can speak to the coworker without screaming or crying, their mental state is likely having impacts in the workplace, even if that wasn’t a factor in the coworker’s decision.

  56. quill*

    #2 It may not need to be said, but it’s possible that coworker didn’t tell HR much beyond “I think LW is struggling, are there resources?” and HR is the one that just sends a canned one size fits all email. Because it sounds like the EAP & HR program overall is pretty shitty.

  57. Squidhead*

    I feel for OP2 and for their co-worker. The OP intended to communicate “this could be much worse, it’s tolerable though not great” and the co-worker heard “this is one step away from being really bad.” In most workplaces (and most health interventions) the goal is to intervene *before* something is at a crisis point. So if a major project is going to be delayed without answers to a key point, the time to get those answers is a month before the due date, not the night before. If someone’s health is suffering, the time to intervene is before it’s a crisis and they need emergency services.

    To someone not trained in mental health (or the details of the major project), it’s very difficult to know where the lines are between these levels of severity. I’d like to believe the co-worker was attempting to act with responsibility to a serious situation and the trust that had been placed in them. (This does assume they didn’t go telling all their friends about the situation). But now the OP has to contend with the Concerned Gazes and Meaningful Questions, the last thing they have energy for at this point.

  58. KP*

    I am so conflicted about the mental health issue.

    I’ve had a coworker/friend tell me that while they were not actively suicidal, they were passively feeling that way. I knew about previous mental health diagnoses and I knew that they were chronic, life long illnesses. They were asking for support. Minor things like, “Hey, can we have a standing coffee date at 9am on Tuesdays” because it was easier for them to manage their illness when they had things they needed to be accountable for.

    So. I showed up for them Every day. It took five minutes and it helped. My other colleague that they confided in found several support groups for them (specific issue they were dealing with) and that helped too. If it had gotten too big, I would have consulted with the other colleague (and probably my friend who was suffering) and called HR or the EAP.

    I think the difference here is that we’re friends, I knew their history of illness, I understood what had triggered them, and I didn’t believe they were in immediate danger. (Absolutely miserable, yes. But not actively in danger) When I read the LW question, I saw someone in pain, but not actively in danger. That’s the thing about chronic illness; those who don’t have it don’t always understand that distinction. There’s a difference between needing support and being in crisis.

  59. CupcakeCounter*

    Been there, done that, stick to the 2 weeks. I did it for 15 month but the final straw was when I had to cut a meeting off to leave to pick up my child from daycare before they closed, they told me I had 30 minutes to do pick up and be back on-site to finish the meeting. I told them, ever so politely, to fudge off. The meeting related to the role I was promoted OUT of over a year prior so the backfill should be in the meeting not me. Except they never backfilled the old role so I was still expected to cover it (impossible as the old role was 45+ hours easy and the new role even more but it was a Catch-22 for me because the new role was dependent on the old role). I didn’t return and warned them that I was literally the only person they had that could do certain things so they should probably get moving on that backfill because I was burnt out.
    They decided I was bluffing. I wasn’t. Had a new job within 30 days of that conversation. Mass panic ensued but their counter offers and retention bonuses still didn’t come close to what the new job paid. I made it clear that outside of being paid the salary of BOTH jobs, they had no chance in hell.
    Leaving was the best thing I ever did because the job I took after that gave me a solid knowledge base of the entire financial side of a business and essentially set me up to do anything in my field. I was laid off at the beginning of Covid from a brand new job and had a new one lined up the same week with a 10% increase in pay. That job was shit so I left after a year and got to pick from 4 offers and my new job is great. Plus that job I left for corrected my salary suppression – I joined the original company during the 2008 recession so super low wages to begin with plus no merits or economic adjustments until my promotion 4 years later which was still only a 5% increase from my starting salary. 25% increase on day 1 plus 2 additional promotions and another economic realignment (in addition to normal COLA and merit increases) based on my contributions and COL put me in line with market for my area and made salary negotiation a lot easier since its a lot easier to say “I’m currently at X and won’t leave for anything less than X+15%”. I’m now within spitting distance of a 6-figure salary which is hard to do as an accountant with no Masters degree or CPA certification, especially in my small, Midwest area.

  60. TyphoidMary*


    I’m thinking about how I *never ever ever* disclose anything about my mental health other than a breezy “oh, it’s a hard time for all of us, I’m sure!”

    Because even *well-meaning coworkers* have zero experience with mental health 101. And for many (most?) of us, having ANY hint that we have a mental illness escalate to HR is an immediate threat to our job. (Ask me how I know!)

    Honestly, I do not blame any coworkers for appealing to the authority they assumed would help, but I would love it if we had a culture where more people had exposure to some basics of mental health, including how much damage is often done by the “helpful” programs at work.

    I know this makes it seem like it puts the onus on coworkers, but… if we actually want to promote mental wellness, it IS going to require some education and responsibility from our colleagues, not just policies handed down from on high.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I have a lot of diagnoses, including anxiety, and I disclose the anxiety where appropriate because it’s visible and I don’t want people to think I’m more stressed or overworked than is reasonable for my job. Because behavior can worry people too! I also disclose *occasionally* that I have ADHD, but I’m more conservative with that one. I never disclose that I have PTSD, though might if I were in a private conversation with someone where it felt like it might be relevant to my ability to understand their experience. Basically my rule is not so much “never ever ever disclose” so much as “is this relevant and helpful in my current situation or is it more than I want someone to know about me”. And I’m definitely more bendy on it if someone has expressed a mental health issue to me, and I try to promote mental health days and mental wellness in spaces I’m able.

      But that line is going to be different for everyone, and I agree the way to make it safer for people to intentionally or even unintentionally share more is a culture of education, acceptance, and respect. Without those things people sometimes overreact (though I can’t say I disagree with what the colleague did here – that sounds like a pretty alarming conversation), and we just leave more room for stigma.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, I usually disclose the anxiety (Unhideable, less stigmatizeed) instead of the PTSD as well. Partially because since I’m a woman people make assumptions about how I got the PTSD, partially because people do not tend to be as sympathetic to PTSD unless you’re a veteran or like, a disaster survivor.

        And partially because a manager’s response to the anxiety is usually pretty manageable, because I can offer things like “I really prefer written instructions because if I’m going off verbal ones I always worry if I have forgotten something” whereas for PTSD the only thing that the manager can control is not making me sit with my back to the aisle.

  61. Anonforthis*

    CW: suicide/self-harm
    I work in HR, and I’ve worked a lot in the space of trying to connect employees with mental health resources. I’ve experienced having to deal with an employee trying to kill themselves in the workplace. Prior to the suicide attempt, we knew this person was having mental health struggles as they had shared some personal information with their co-workers, their manager, and HR. We tried numerous times to connect them with resources, including leaves of absence, EAP, etc. In every case, the employee found some reason why whatever was suggested wouldn’t work for them. We were extremely concerned about their well being and even tried to get the person’s emergency contact involved, which the employee resented very much. Ultimately, the employee was not successful in their suicide attempt, but that whole situation still haunts me and I still think back over what we could have done differently or better to get the person the help they obviously needed.
    My point is, it sounds as though the co-worker was coming from a place of concern and realized “hey, there’s an issue here and I’m really concerned, but I don’t know what to do, so I’m going to try to connect this person with help.” Deciding when something is emergent enough to override someone else’s privacy is a really tough call.

    1. Mauvaise Pomme*

      I have similar experiences (though not in the workplace) that would lead to me hearing someone offer, unprompted, that they’re not currently suicidal with a great deal of alarm. My reactions are likely colored by my own life experiences, but this is EXACTLY the kind of unprompted reassurance I’ve heard from someone who went on to make a genuine attempt.

  62. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

    Trigger warning for suicide

    We’ve dealt with a suicide that occurred in our office space. It was absolutely horrible for everyone. If any coworker disclosed something like “I’m not *actively* suicidal *right now*” to any other coworker who had been through that experience (whether they still worked here or had gone on to work at another organization), they probably would have done the same thing that OP’s coworker did here.

  63. oh no*

    Ah, LW2…I’ve been there. Even using the word “suicidal” around people who haven’t personally experienced depression can cause this kind of reaction, despite the fact you went out the way to say you’re *not* suicidal. Just hearing it makes alarm bells go off for a lot of people. I’m sorry the response seemed so OTT. I wish there was more awareness of the difference between “in need of immediate help” and “just existing in a depressive state”, but…yeah. Progress on that front is slow.

    1. biobotb*

      Well, if someone wants to make a distinction between “I’m reaching out because I’m in need of immediate help” and “I’m reaching out because I want you to know I’m just existing in a depressive state” they need to actually make that distinction to their coworker. Spell out what they want to coworker to get out of the interaction, and why they feel like the coworker needs to know about their mental state. Don’t make them guess and worry.

      1. Sindy*

        “Why don’t mentally ill people make better judgment calls when they aren’t well?”


        1. Rocket*

          If you make a bad judgement call, for whatever the reason, you deal with the consequences of that. That the judgement call was because of poor mental health doesn’t change that. People aren’t mind readers and have their own mental health and experiences coloring how they receive your words.

          1. Sindy*

            The OP has commented below, so you can go and get mad at them to their face I guess. This is a remarkably callous and cruel and response to this situation where LW#2 was humiliated over a long term problem that they’re struggling with.

        2. biobotb*

          So you expect someone who isn’t inside your head to make a better judgement call for you than you would for yourself? Your mental health struggles don’t magically make other people psychic. Gosh.

          1. Sindy*

            You’re actively lying about what I said but you’ve also been incredibly bigoted towards mentally ill people in this comment section in every single comment I’ve read from you, so this isn’t terribly surprising. That seems to be the order of the day for this topic.

            I never said anything about the LW#2 considering other people to be psychic — you’re making that up and then getting mad about something I never said. I also never said other people should be making “better judgment calls” on behalf of LW#2. The only thing I said was Lw#2 didn’t make a good decision, on account of the fact that they have severe depression. So if you’re going to get mad at me, please make sure to get mad about words that I actually wrote instead of the fantasy you made up inside your head.

            I don’t think that LW#2 should have said anything but that’s because it’s a bad situation for everyone all around, and regular people are not equipped to cope with these situations. I also think it is dangerous because it exposes LW#2 to professional liability and even professional blacklisting if they meet a bigot with a chip on their shoulder regarding mental illness. However I am not going to be like you, or most of the people in this comment section, and try to brush this under the rug and pretend that it’s okay for LW#2 to be ritually humiliated by HR and an incompetent EAP who hosed them, on purpose, when they actually tried to reach out for help.

            1. biobotb*

              I’m actively lying about what YOU said? You are the one who reinterpreted my comment to mean I think mentally ill people should make better judgements (when my point was that other people can’t know what you want if you don’t tell them), and then claim I said the LW2 thinks others are psychic. I didn’t mention LW2 in either of these comments! I referred to SOMEONE. That is a *general* term (and you used a general term, too, referring to “mentally ill people” — not LW2 specifically).

              Also, where did I say that LW2’s experience with HR and the EAP was OK? Maybe stop lying about my words, eh?

  64. University Schlep*

    LW#1 I would definitely NOT bring muffins but for a slightly different reason. (cue my cynical side)

    There are a certain genre of coworkers who have a tendency to repeatedly drop the ball especially when faced with learning something new and try to make up for it with wine/coffee/treats. The first time it happens it seems like a genuine apology, but later you realize this is how they get by, they never actually learn, they skate on their imagined goodwill.

    For that reason, I would avoid bringing in muffins at this stage, those of us who have worked with “skaters” tend to be suspicious of the motivation. You were handed a target above your head, you reached and it sounds like you succeeded, it just took longer. This is not a screw up, this is learning. Most people who have any kind of seniority understand that training someone new comes with temporary growing pains. Your only obligation is to do what you are doing and figure out how to do better next time, whether that means additional training, breaking off a smaller piece, etc.

    Now once you have established yourself as a reliable member of the team, bringing in a mea culpa treat for a genuine gaffe is a different story.

  65. Mauvaise Pomme*

    LW#2: I think it further complicates matters that the person you spoke to, while not explicitly your supervisor, has a supervisory role over some of your work. When you make a disclosure to a supervisor (or someone in a supervisory role), you are essentially making that disclosure TO THE COMPANY. It’s not just an interpersonal conversation at that point. When I was first receiving new manager training, we were instructed to think of ourselves as mandated reporters for anything that could be a liability to the organization coming from our reports, and to make it clear to our reports what the situation was if it seemed like they were about to make a sensitive disclosure. (E.g., “just so you know, if you tell me anything related to workplace harassment, workplace safety, or other sensitive matters, I will be required to report that to HR. I just want to make you aware so you don’t feel blindsided later.”)

    It’s like if you confided in your work friend about a coworker harassing you, but that work friend happens to be your HR rep; you just can’t expect confidentiality in that situation, regardless of your personal relationship. LW #2, in that moment, your senior colleague was essentially operating as an extension of the company. It would have been nice if she’d given you a heads-up that she was concerned and going to talk to someone, but she may not have really processed what was said until later.

    If she did tell other coworkers, that’s definitely inappropriate (IMHO), but her going to HR was the right thing to do given the circumstances.

  66. AMW*

    Hi LW2, fellow “just existing”-er here. I feel you on this. I am somewhat open and jokey about my own mental illness at work and I would still be mortified if someone reported me. The thing is that I know where I’m at mentally, but my coworkers might not; they could look at me and think “wow, they need help,” but I actually AM getting help. It’s really hard to convincingly convey “I’m not doing well but you legitimately don’t need to worry about me.” Your coworker was missing a lot of context and did what they thought was best in that situation. Mental health awareness is a good thing overall, I think, but it can be a doubled-edged sword when people make assumptions.

    1. Mauvaise Pomme*

      In fairness to LW #2’s coworker, the LW made it very clear that they are NOT getting help, and that they have no intention of pursuing mental healthcare or professional help of any kind. Given that the LW also invoked the concept of suicide out of nowhere in that conversation, it was overall deeply, deeply alarming. We also don’t know the coworker’s personal history here or what she’s dealt with in the past; as someone who knows people who made comments VERY similar to this prior to making a genuine attempt, I would genuinely lose sleep over this comment if I were in the colleague’s shoes.

      1. WhatAmIMissingHere*

        But that’s not the co-worker’s problem to solve. Colleagues are not therapists and should take people at their word. OP said they weren’t in danger and co-worker should have believed them. If they were so concerned that they couldn’t sleep at night, they could have shared EPA resources with co-worker without getting HR involved.

        1. Mauvaise Pomme*

          In a way, the LW made it the colleague’s problem when they made a very alarming and out-of-the-blue disclosure to someone they didn’t know very well, AND who has supervisory responsibilities over them. Bringing up suicide as a possible option unprompted is always a major red flag, and I don’t blame the colleague at all for feeling like they needed to get outside help once they heard that.

          And just to add, I have a lot of compassion for what the LW is going through! I don’t mean to sound callous. It sounds like they’re in a very dark place right now (perhaps darker than they themselves realize), but when you opt to make upsetting disclosures like this to others, you can’t be surprised when they react with alarm, or feel ill equipped to handle this kind of burden alone.

        2. Delphine*

          LW put the burden on the co-worker by divulging the information, there’s no obligation on the co-worker to keep that to herself if she’s legitimately worried. If it’s not co-worker’s problem to solve then don’t mention suicide at all.

          1. WhatAmIMissingHere*

            So we just shouldn’t trust people when they mention they’re not in immediate danger? OP went out of their way to specify they’re not suicidal and their co-worker just…chose not to believe them. Ridiculous overreaction on CW’s part that.

            1. biobotb*

              So if the OP doesn’t want anything from her coworker, why did she mention any of this to them? It’s ridiculous to expect people won’t have a reaction to someone mentioning suicide in the same conversation in which they describe their untreated depression (that they also have explicitly decided not to treat). It’s not unreasonable for the coworker to think the OP was reaching out for … something.

            2. Forrest*

              If co-worker said, “I am not actively suicidal”, they did not actually mention that they are not in immediate danger. Firstly, because suicide is not the only form of harm, and secondly because there is no way of knowing whether that means, “not this afternoon” or “not this week” or “not this month and probably not this year.”

              If you know someone well, you have a whole bunch of contextual information that means you can interpret “I am not actively suicidal” as “I am not in immediate danger”. But you don’t have that if a disclosure comes out of the blue.

            3. Rocket*

              You don’t know she chose not to believe them. We have no idea what the coworker said to HR.

              Example: “OP said some very alarming things to me about their mental health. They said they weren’t suicidal, so we don’t have to worry about that, but the did say XY and Z and I have seen AB and C. It’s clear they need help and I don’t know wha