How To Help Someone who Suffers a Loss In the Workplace

By Michelle Apple, L.C.S.W. and Russ Pitts

The workplace is where most adults spend up to half of their waking lives, and it’s a place where we are most likely to meet new people, find new friends and share in the experiences of other people. Occasionally that means dealing with a personal loss.

Whether sudden or expected, tragic or peaceful, dealing with the loss of a friend or colleague is never easy. It is entirely normal to feel sad or even depressed after suffering a loss, and for some people a personal loss may make dealing with their existing mental health issues even more complicated.

Friends, family, and co-workers are the major supporters for those who experience a loss. They are the first line of defense. But many people worry they do not understand how to handle such situations, or how to offer help. There is also a great fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, or making someone’s suffering worse.

Here is a quick guide to helping someone positively cope with their grief

1. A grieving person may experience shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness. These are the “seven stages of grief” that a person typically goes through when they experience a loss. These stages may vary in the duration and how they look depending on the individual. These stages are not on a clock and it may take someone a while to return to their “old self”. A grieving person may be short-tempered, withdrawn, forgetful, tired, depressed, behave erratically, or be more emotional than usual.

2. You can help someone you know by expressing your sympathy. This can be as simple as saying how sorry you are to hear that they suffered a loss. Ask if you can help in any way. Be careful to avoid saying things like “I know how you feel”, “Time will heal all losses”, or “It was God’s will”. Even if sincere, these comments can cause offense, or be received in the wrong way by someone coping with a loss. It’s best to keep it simple, and remember that we are all different and cope in different ways. What might help you might not help others.

3. Remember that just being present is supportive, and sometimes that’s all another person needs.

4. It’s also important to keep in mind that when someone else experiences a loss, you may have your own emotional reactions. Death and loss frequently generate questions about our own mortality and that of our families. The death of someone’s child, relative, spouse, co-worker or friend may evoke strong emotional reactions about how much we might relate to based on our own experiences in the past, or our own fears about what might happen in the future. This is a natural response to a loss, even if it’s not our own.

5. Those that may feel they are too frequently worrying or sad about certain aspects or issues in their lives should reach out to someone to talk to. There is no stigma associated with just needing to sort out or talk through personal struggles. Ninety percent of people who receive counseling report feeling better after speaking with someone. Just getting the thoughts in your head out into the open is therapeutic in and of itself.

There is no “normal” response when it comes to loss. All people process loss at different speeds and differently in general. Be kind, be patient, be present.

For information on when to seek dedicated clinical help and how to find it, please visit our “When to Seek Help” page.

If you decide to seek therapy or counseling, there are productive steps to take to find the right fit in our “How to Find a Therapist” guide.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of hurting yourself or others and is based in the US, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255. You can also text AFK to 741741. Information for other countries/areas can be found here.

Take This, Inc seeks to educate, inform, and advocate about about mental health issues in our community.  We do not provide mental health services or professional consultations.