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I've been working as a software developer at a fairly large company for about two years now. I noticed a while back one of my coworkers who I'll call X, suddenly started acting rather depressed; when I first met X, they were a happy, easy-going person, with a very magnetic personality, but over the past month or so X has become very quiet and seems really sad.

I'm a bit concerned about X, but I don't want to come off as prying. Can I talk to X, maybe ask what's troubling them? And how can I go about it? Or is it none of my business and I should leave them alone?

  • 1
    If X wants to tell you.... he'll tell you ;) . – Radu Murzea Aug 27 '16 at 9:25
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    If X is depressed, he won't. Whether he wants to or not. – gnasher729 Aug 28 '16 at 11:48
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I'm a bit concerned about X, but I don't want to come off as prying.

Just say what you've said above, like: I don't want to pry, but I've notice that you seem kinda down lately. If you feel like talking, I'm happy to listen.

Another approach is to just be there. Invite X to get lunch or a cup of coffee. X might decline or accept but never get into their issue, which you should respect. Either way, you've made a friendly gesture, and that's never inappropriate. Saying let me know if you want to talk or let me know if I can help isn't always the best thing because it puts the burden on the other person to ask for help. Making a friendly invitation or doing something nice is a way of removing that burden without intruding.

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Nobody will object to "hey, how are you doing, if you need a sympathetic ear you know where to find me...."

But if they don't want to discuss it, don't push. (If you knew them well enough to be an exception to that rule, you wouldn't be asking this question.)

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Yes, absolutely.

The easiest way to do this is asking harmless questions ("How are you doing?","How was the weekend?") in a situation where you and him/her are undisturbed, but signaling with calm voice, body language, intent hearing with long deliberate pauses and maintaining eye contact that you are actually listening. You are indicating that this is not chit-chat, but signalling subconsciously that you feel that something is off and that you actually care. It is good if you know addresses of crisis centers beforehand.

People will immediately recognize what you are doing without any words which could be criticized as prying.

If he/she is having currently a bad situation which they think they are able to handle, they will act likely a little abashed ("Uh, he recognized that I am in a bad mood") and giving positive, reassuring responses or, if it is not serious and like to vent off steam, they will tell the story ("Ah, it's all right. But there is this carpenter..."). It is not 100% safe, it is still possible that someone is having trouble and faking to be ok, but you cannot do anything about it.

If, on the other hand, there really is a problem, they will grow very quiet and will have trouble to maintain eye contact. Don't say anything, retain distance and respect their boundaries (do not search for eye contact if not initiated), let them choose how to continue, even if nothing happens for minutes. Even if they break up the talk, they will now know that you will listen.

It is also possible that they will hastily stop the talk or act angry out of proportion (because they have not accepted themselves that they need help because their self-image does not allow to be "weak"). Do not feel intimidated or embarassed, you simply cannot do anything about it.

Depression is very insidious because the most natural reaction, withdrawing, is the worst reaction becauses it starts a vicious cycle. Suicide is one of the topmost killers in the world and almost always people will give out warning signals before something happens. Simply listening can save lives.

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It is usually best to stay out of colleagues personal problems beyond the shallowest interest unless they confide in you which I personally would discourage politely. You really have no idea what their problem is, or even if they have one, and some people would not appreciate someone prying.

Superiors might become more involved if an individual is affecting general morale or something like that, or approaches them.

What I find appropriate is to focus on positive things about people and mention those. But I do that whether they're depressed or not.

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