Advice column: my colleague shows signs of distress; is it intrusive to enquire?

Dear Ash,

My colleague has been acting slightly out of sorts of late. He seems to be quite hyper at times with his jokes and loud laughter, but then he seems to subsequently go into a very low mood and hardly talks to anyone. The other day his eyes were puffed up after he came back from lunch, which I’m sure was as a result of his crying. I’m not sure whether to ask him if he is OK, as he can be quite sharp at times with others about work issues. I am concerned about him but don’t want him to think I’m being intrusive?

Ash replies:

From what you describe, it does seem that your colleague is going through some degree of emotional turmoil. It could be that his attempt at being jovial is his way of covering up the pain he is experiencing, although he does still appear to be unable to hide his clear distress.

I understand your reluctance to speak to your colleague about the situation, but you should not ignore the symptoms of someone’s mental health issues, just like you would not ignore asking a colleague about a physical injury.

It is important to broach the subject with some sensitivity and perhaps just provide your colleague with the opportunity to talk. Therefore I suggest you initially invite him to grab a coffee, and then just ask if he is OK. This should give him assurance that someone is concerned and then he can choose to confide in you, if he needs.

If your colleague is short with you, do not take this personally; he may just find it difficult to speak about the situation, especially if he is experiencing a personal crisis which he doesn’t want to disclose at work. Therefore do at least suggest that whatever the issue, he could look to speak to an independent person in confidence and seek some support. There is support available both through LawCare and other independent counselling services.

The key thing is not to ignore someone going through mental health issues at work, as it may only add to their feeling of despair and isolation. 

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and other legal professionals, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, Head of Admissions, on 0131 476 8162, or by email:

Share this article
Add To Favorites