Read time: 4 mins      Added: 14/11/2022

Mental health is just as important as physical health, but it can be more difficult for people to talk about. Many people feel isolated, fearful, or ashamed of opening up about their mental wellbeing. Sometimes, people who are experiencing poor mental health may not have noticed the signs, while others around them could be aware something isn’t right.

Below are a few things you can do to support your colleagues with their mental health and wellbeing in the workplace in a safe, sensitive and helpful way.

Right place, right time

Although it can feel as if there’s never a right time for a conversation about mental health, making sure that the person you’re talking to feels supported is key.

Find a quiet space where you and your colleague can talk confidentially without interruption. Giving your colleague a choice of location can help them feel empowered. If there is not a suitable place at work, suggest going out for a walk or a coffee. Sitting or walking alongside the other person can feel less confrontational, making it easier to open up or feel more at ease when conversations are difficult.

If you’re working remotely, suggest you both book a time when you can guarantee you won’t be disturbed. Headphones are useful for both parties to maintain confidentiality. Checking in on remote workers more frequently is a good idea too, as they may feel more isolated, particularly if you’re concerned about their mental wellbeing.

Ask, listen and hear

Think about what and how you might ask about a person’s mental health, and make a few notes in advance if helpful. Here are some things you may wish to consider:

  • Research suggests that over 3/4 (78%) of us would tell friends and family we are "fine" even if struggling with a mental health problem. Asking the other person "are you sure you’re okay?" gives them the opportunity to open up if there is something on their mind.
  • Reassuring the other person that it’s okay to talk is essential, as they might feel nervous talking about their mental health at work. If you’ve noticed they haven’t seemed themselves recently, gently let them know, or simply ask them how they’re feeling.
  • Active listening means giving the other person your full attention, demonstrating this by use of non-verbal communication such as nodding, and by clarifying your understanding of what a person has told you. While it may be tempting to give your opinion, try to just listen and show compassion. If you feel stuck, you can thank your colleague for being open with you and let them know you’ll go away and think about what they’ve told you.
  • Using open questions is often really helpful to the other person. Staying out of judgement means that they will feel able to open up if they want to. Ask about what support they have, who they can talk to or what they might need for things to improve, rather than offering advice.
  • Be supportive and reliable. Remind them that you’re there to talk if they need to, and make sure you know where to signpost them should they need more help. Mental Health UK is a good source of information for support and services in your area.

Being authentic

While we might wish for good mental health and wellbeing for everyone connected with our business, this is statistically unlikely. Four out of five small business owners experience common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year, so the chances are you’re among this group.

Being an authentic role model when it comes to mental health isn’t easy. Opening up about your own mental health experience could run the risk of alarming those who rely on your leadership. However, there are ways to empathically share your experiences without going into all the detail. Instead, focus on sharing what you did to address your mental health problems to show those around you that it’s okay to struggle and that help is out there.

Begin to introduce more general conversations around mental health and wellbeing routinely, and keep the conversation going. Improving mental health takes time, it’s not a one-off exercise - consistency is key.

By taking your own advice around mental health in the workplace, you can lead with strength and create a psychologically safe, open and inclusive work environment for everyone.

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