There are quite a few question aiming at or hinting towards avoiding academic burn-out, but I couldn't come across one that targets interaction with a colleague that has suffered from a serious burn-out, which can be very tricky as I am learning nowadays.
Background: A colleague of mine (office-mate actually) has suffered a pretty major crisis over the past year and had to take an extended leave of absence due to stress. The person in question was/is close to disputation but due to the fact that they could not handle being at work anymore, everything was postponed.
After several months away, my colleague is trying to get back in the game by starting off 20%. I heard that it didn't work out all too good the first attempt, a couple of weeks later they are attempting to start again. As we were chatting the other day, I realized that I can't really say much without tripping my colleague off, in the sense that the subject often raises old issues somehow and causes some frustration/stress for my colleague. That partially originates from the fact that most of what we have in common and talk about is work oriented somehow.
My natural reflex when I realize that the subject causes discomfort is to not feed the conversation and attempt to change the subject. But that doesn't really work too good, as it's not very discrete. I also suspect that specially avoiding small-talk with my office mate isn't very nice either, I don't want the person to feel isolated and alone. I mean the fact that a person had a stress-related problem, it's not something that one should be ashamed or embarrassed about, it shouldn't be awkward socially, but somehow it does feel like that.
Does anyone here have any experience about how to tackle a situation like this?