Workplace Wellbeing Academy


The language people use can be an indicator that they are beginning to struggle with our mental health and wellbeing. Taking a little time to investigate the meaning behind their words can often be a good idea.

Here are 10 bullet points about the kinds of words people might use that may indicate they are having difficulties.

  1. When a person starts to experience issues around their emotional and mental health their focus can begin to internalise onto thoughts and feelings, so you may notice that words such as “me”, “myself” and “I” appear more often than they ordinarily would in their conversation.
  2. A person can begin to develop a very absolutist way of thinking where something is either wrong or right with no grey areas in between. You might notice words such as “always” and “never”.
  3. The person may start to have issues around their self-esteem and begin to judge themselves negatively. Typically, this might be indicated by the word “should”. “I should do this”, “I shouldn’t have done that”.
  4. As negative emotions begin to grow for the person then so might the negative words that they use in the things they use about themselves. This could include some of the following and more. “Bad”, “sad”, “helpless”, “hopeless”, “aching”, “worthless”, “useless”, “stupid”, “stuck”, “alone”, “black and blue”, “alone”, “despair”.
  5. When feelings of anxiety and depression come to the fore for a person it can be very difficult for the person to imagine taking any course of action, as they really can feel stuck. This would extend to activities that you know the person would ordinarily really enjoy so you may notice that any suggestion may be met with the response “I can’t”.
  6. Problems with self-esteem may be tied up with feelings of self-blame as the person may begin to self-stigmatise themselves. The person may say things like “it’s all my fault”.
  7. The person may be fearful of being judged by others for what they might feel is a weakness as part and parcel of their self-stigmatisation. They may feel too vulnerable to ask directly for help so when the person says “I’m fine” it might be worth exploring a little more, rather than taking the statement at face value.
  8. Physical and mental health is so intertwined as to make me wonder why we don’t just use the term health. Your physical health affects your mental health and vice versa so if the person says “I’m so tired” then that might indicate something more complicated than might first appear.
  9. When a person is experiencing emotions such as the ones already mentioned then it is very tempting to self-cocoon and withdraw from contact with others. You might spot phrases such as “I want to be alone”. The other side of that coin is that a person may feel abandoned as people take that statement at face value, so you may also hear “no one cares”.
  10. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can be a huge component of the negative thoughts and emotions a person may experience. Phrases such as “what’s the point” may indicate that, for them, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. This can be a dangerous state of mind for a person to find themselves in. It may indicate that the person is feeling suicidal and this needs addressing directly and unambiguously. I would refer you to this page from the Health Services Executive in Ireland on how best to have that conversation and I would point out that you can contact the Samaritans in both the UK and Ireland on 116 123.

Finally, the fact that a person suddenly appears to be feeling a lot better does not mean that there is no longer any cause for concern. This can be known as “Sudden Unexplained Recovery” and can mean that the person’s resolve to end their own life and to regain some certainty has lifted their mood in the short term. It is worth having a conversation about the reasons for the changes for that person.

Not everyone who experiences the feelings mentioned in the earlier bullet points will become suicidal, by any means, but having honest conversations with each other about the way we are feeling can be very helpful for all of us to release negative emotions and begin to process them. Remember that that role is only as a concerned friend or colleague. You are not a therapist or any other form of mental health professional and it is not your responsibility to solve the person’s problems for them. What you might be able to do though is listen to the person and help guide them to the kinds of professional help that they might find helpful. There is a list of Irish resources here and UK ones here.

It is especially important that, at times like these, we try to be there for each other. I like to think that if I can be there to listen to somebody having difficulties then maybe someone will listen to me if a have them.