Dear Amy: I work at a small law firm where we are treated more as family than employees. One of our hardest working, most dedicated, and passionate employees tried to kill himself a few days ago.
We are all saddened by the news, relieved that he wasn't successful, and shocked because we had no idea he was suffering.
His job here is secure, and hopefully he will be coming back.
My question is selfish. What do I say to him the next time we meet? We are friendly, but not exactly close. I want to be respectful of his privacy, but I also want to let him know he is valued. Should I just pretend that nothing happened? — Tightrope Walker
Dear Walker: If your colleague returns to work, I assume that he will feel more on a tightrope than anyone. He might be most relieved to be greeted with a sincere: "Wow, we missed you. Welcome back, pal. I'm so happy you're here."
After a mental health crisis, people feel on stage. It can be a relief to step back into the world and reintegrate into life's more normal rhythms and quotidian concerns.
You want to be the person who doesn't dwell on his personal drama — the person who will allow him to move forward, without a lot of prurient curiosity or judgment attached.
Of course, if he initiates a conversation about his challenges, listen sympathetically, don't offer up any comparisons to other people or situations, don't pile on any advice, and simply — accept him as he is.
Dear Amy: Several months ago, my personal physician abruptly canceled all her appointments and was absent from the office for three months.
I saw one of her partners several times in the interim, but all my inquiries about the health of my personal MD were met by shrugged shoulders — no one in the office seemed to know what was wrong or when or if my doctor would return. Apparently, she is now back.
I realize that the doctor has a right to privacy. But the abrupt nature of her departure, and the strange silence within the office as to the cause, makes me suspect that she may have been suffering from a mental health condition or perhaps drug or alcohol addiction. Obviously, this is all speculation on my part, but I would have thought if she had a serious illness — even cancer — that this information would have been shared with her patients.
Should I continue to entrust my care to her? I don't want to judge her, but at the same time, I want a physician who is mentally astute. I know mental health and substance abuse conditions are treatable and I also know the relapse rate is high. Should I come right out and ask her? — Concerned Patient
Dear Concerned: Trust your physician. If you trusted her before, you should trust her now. She might have been absent due to a family obligation. Cancer, depression, alcoholism — or any physical, mental or emotional malady you could imagine — is treatable. Furthermore, your assumption that a person cannot competently work despite grappling with illness (or after recovery) is flawed.
If your physician is back at work, then she is back at work. The only real issue (in my mind) would be if she had been suspended for legal or professional reasons. You can check on any possible suspensions or disciplinary actions by going to your state's Health Department website and following the link for the Office of Professional Medical Conduct.
If you continue to be curious about your doctor's absence, you should ask. Whether she chooses to disclose the reason behind her absence, she should offer you reassurance that her abilities are not diminished.
Dear Amy: The letter from "Buzz Killed in Boston" brought back a memory.
I was a teen and was in the shop owned by a couple. The woman's mother had recently died, and I expressed my sympathy.
She then related the entire sequence of events, beginning to end, of her mom's last moments. I listened ... it lasted for at least 20 minutes. I then gave her a hug and repeated my comment.
About 10 years later, home for a visit, I met her on the street downtown. She gave me a hug, and said, "I have never forgotten how you patiently listened to me back then as I unloaded on you. Thank you for that."
Sometimes, a sympathetic ear is all one needs to make it one more day. — No Regrets
Dear No Regrets: Exactly.