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Recently an intern joined me to work on a project. We are the only people working on this project. A month went by and it was going well; he was completing all the tasks in time and has the talent to have a good career ahead.

But now it seems that he doesn't have any interest in life and doesn't talk with anyone except when it is work-related.

Recently during lunch, he started asking questions like: "What's the point in living and why do people still breed when it is so difficult for them to live? Why is there so much poverty in world? Why are people so bad to each other?"

I didn't have any answers. I would understand if this question was from a teenager but he is 24-year-old adult. Not that adults don't feel helpless, but still I didn't expect that from him. I didn't answer anything and finished my lunch and returned to work. He randomly says stuff like, "No matter what we do in life, it will always be miserable."

He only says these things when there is no third person around. I am not sure if I can discuss this with anyone.

I am not sure if I should be worried about him, or if I should rather just let it go, focus on work only, and ask him to stop behaving like a teenager.

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    Your colleague does have interests outside work. According to your descriptions he is interested in philosophy, ethics, economics, and possibly religion. Interest in the big questions in life are not restricted to teenagers. If you are concerned because you think he might be depressed that's another matter. – DJClayworth Apr 10 at 17:36
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    What goal or end result are you seeking as you consider how to "deal" with him? – dwizum Apr 10 at 17:45
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    If he is actually depressed, then this isn't "Interpersonal skills" this is "seeking medical advice" which is off topic on all SE. – DJClayworth Apr 10 at 17:52
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    We should generally avoid judgement, I feel as OP has already made up his mind. ' I could understand if this question was from a teenager but he is 24 yr old adult. ', seems like a fairly judgy thing to assume. I wonder if the OP even understands depression? It definitely sound like despair, but is it depression? I'm not sure. Also, everyone despairs, not just young people and broadly, those responses from the intern, are what many rational adults ask constantly. Most people just sort of embrace apathy about those things. It's a sign of maturity, not the opposite in my view. – ShinEmperor Apr 10 at 18:52
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    I'm also 24 and I tend about the same thing your intern does from time to time. It's usually money that makes me think about that stuff. We're new to the entire "being on your own" part of our lives. He might just be extremely uncertain about how to handle everything that he needs to take care of, i.e. insurance, making investments, rent, paying off college loans, groceries, exercise, friendships and intimate relationships, working at a job and having those responsibilities. Your intern might also be thinking about their next job since internships don't last forever. – KingDuken Apr 10 at 19:54
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I originally wrote a comment but felt myself wanting to add more coming from the perspective of someone who has had the same thoughts as your coworker and lives with mental illnesses.

I think he may be depressed

I wouldn't begin to assume your intern is actually depressed until he starts to exhibit more related signs. The situation doesn't seem terribly serious at the moment, it could be family trouble, a relative passing away, or just something that has them upset (but sometimes it is hard to know). When you start to notice things like; not showing up for work (repeatedly), exhaustion (likely from lack of sleep), lack of communication, isolation, lower work quality than normal; that's when you should start to be more concerned. It's a tricky spot to be and deciding to encourage them to get help vs helping yourself is hard. At the end of the day, it's not your job to be a medical advisor if they need one, but that doesn't mean you can't be supportive.

Your best bet is to just listen and respond when appropriate, for right now. If the situation seems to become more serious, that's when you can begin suggesting they seek help outside of work. (They may already be seeking that help).

If you start to feel overwhelmed by the situation or if they continue this behavior with no change, then it starts to become a different discussion on whether or not they're just saying them because of social anxiety/awkwardness, etc.

Note - be careful with how you approach it as others have said. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members Check out this source for some tips (even as a coworker some of these apply).

"I am not sure if I should be worried about him or just let it go"

It sounds like this person trusts you, so first and foremost, continue to listen if you can. You don't always have to respond or have an answer, they may just be shy or introverted too, and you allowing them to practice talking can be helpful. I would recommend (as others have) bringing up topics of your own interest to talk about during breaks to change the subject, you might find out they've got other interests and they're just not a great conversationalist (yet!).

Ignoring them when you may be the only person they feel they trust at work can cause the person to close up more or otherwise feel worse. However, as I said, It is not your job to be responsible for their mental health. You're in a position of support, not to provide treatment or actual medical advice.

"ask him to stop behaving like a teenager"

This behavior isn't necessarily exclusive to teenagers and younger adults. Mental illness, pessimism, etc can impact anyone of any age.

"I didn't expect that from him"

You've only known them a month, I think that's just a bad assumption.


Personal Note: I personally choose to not bring any of these things into work even if I think about them, but I'm someone who has sought help and learned how to cope and adapt with these things. They may not be there yet but that doesn't mean they can't get there.

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    Good answer, I especially like the clarification, "It is not your job to be responsible for their mental health." – J. Chris Compton Apr 11 at 16:49
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You are not responsible for your coworker's happiness

Some 24-year-olds can still be emotionally immature, and he may already be seeking help for it.

I am not sure If I can discuss this with anyone.

I would keep the comments to myself as they are not threats, and were likely said in confidence.

I should be worried about him or just let it go and focus on work only and ask him to stop behaving like a teenager.

I would just let it go. As a co-worker, involving yourself in his personal life could create a myriad of problems. It's difficult having a negative person around every day but find ways to block his negativity.

Attempt changing the subject when possible. Next time he says "What's the point of life" or something, you can say

To go have dinner with my friends at Macs. Have you been there?

or something similar.

If you choose to engage, be careful

If you choose to engage him and try to help his depression, be sure you are ready for the possible fall-out of a very personal relationship at work that may involve an uncomfortable level of sharing between coworkers OR the possibility of animosity between you and him.

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    I cannot upvote an answer that says "Ignore a colleague who has a potentially serious problem." – DJClayworth Apr 10 at 18:18
  • @DJClayworth - importantly, the OP didn't state that he threatened to hurt himself or someone else. The answer would have likely involved HR if he had. – sevensevens Apr 11 at 15:05
  • Threatening to hurt themselves or someone else isn't what starts to define it as a potentially serious problem. It can be a serious problem even before harmful threats begin to arise. e.g they're skipping work, not sleeping, beginning to fail tasks, etc. – n_plum Apr 11 at 16:20
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    This is a valid position and may even be the "safe" answer. But I have chosen to not up-vote it because it doesn't feel like the right thing to do in this case. This could be a possibly troubled person that is reaching out to just the OP, or it could be something else. Also, I did not down-vote because this is a valid (reasonable) position to take with co-workers. – J. Chris Compton Apr 11 at 16:55
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Well, I understand that depression is serious. But if he isn't like this when you guys are doing serious work, then I would accept that it's his quirk. As long as he is performing well that's what's important.

You could also try to:

  1. Lighten the mood : when he says "What's the point of living" respond with "Well, it's so that we get to watch Detective Pikachu when it comes out!"
  2. Change the topic : "why do people still breed if they themselves live in so much difficulty" maybe ask "Hey do you know when Detective Pikachu is coming out?"
  3. Humor him : "Why are people so bad to each other." maybe say "Yeah.. it's sad isn't it? Why can't everyone just get along and watch Detective Pikachu once it hits the theatres?"
  4. Listen to him for a while. Sometimes people just want someone to listen. Once he's let it all out, and he's fine, then offer to hang out with him ("Hey, do you want to watch Detective Pikachu with me when it comes out?")
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    For some reason, I now have an urge to watch Detective Pikachu. – AAlig Apr 10 at 18:20
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How to deal with a coworker who maybe depressed

If you are bothered by his depression or if it makes your job tougher, you can act but be careful to not cross unwanted borders : a sensitive person is difficult to handle. Be gentle, try to understand why he acts like this : is it only a phase ? Did something hard happened to him recently ?

If you only want to deal with it for the sake of this person, well it depends on your current relation : you can joke with him when he says negative things to try to make them positive, and you can also try to understand why by simply asking him

Hey X, I don't know if you say negative things because your life is hard to you these times. If you wanna talk about it we can grab a coffee one day

But I'm not in this person head, so I can't say if he wants help/attention or if he prefers to be left alone. If you can and want investigate, do it carefully not to hurt his probably already fragile feelings

  • Could someone explain what makes this answer unuseful ? I'm open to editions or/and advice to make better ones next time – S. Miranda Apr 12 at 8:17

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