How to support a colleague who is experiencing low mental health
Here you’ll find information and links to specialist resources that can help employers and managers to support a colleague who is experiencing low mental health.
If you are an employer or manager who is concerned that a colleague might be experiencing low mental health, it’s important for you to know how to handle the situation appropriately and, where necessary, to offer support.
Start a conversation
If you think you have recognised signs of low mental wellbeing in a colleague, then you may need to start a conversation with the person to find out more. You could use the opportunity of a regular one-to-one catch up or a return-to-work meeting following a period of absence and begin simply by asking, ‘how are you?’.
- Choose a suitable location
Hold your conversation somewhere that’s private, quiet and where your colleague is more likely to feel relaxed.
- Maintain confidentiality
Remember that information related to a colleague’s mental health is confidential and sensitive.
- Don’t assume
Your colleague may not be struggling, might feel they can manage without your support or might not feel that they are able to discuss the matter with you.
- Encourage open dialogue
Provide space for your colleague to explain their situation in their own words and in their own time.
- Offer reassurance
Remind your colleague that you’re there to help and support as and when required.
Promote wellbeing in the workplace
Fostering a workplace culture that’s supportive and open to discussing mental health will make such conversations easier to hold. If you are routinely asking your colleagues how they are, both physically and mentally, then you’ll build their confidence and make it easier for them to approach you for support.
You can learn more here about ways to promote wellbeing in the workplace.
What comes next?
Develop a plan of action
If you do have a colleague who is experiencing low mental wellbeing, the next step could be to develop a plan of action. Identify any work-related situations or issues that might be impacting their wellbeing and ascertain whether there’s anything that could be done to help alleviate them. Agree any changes with your colleague and plan to check in later to review their effectiveness.
Employers are required by the Equality Act 2010 to provide reasonable adjustments to people with disabilities, including mental health conditions. Practical examples of reasonable adjustments include flexible working patterns, such as changes to start and finish times, provisioning for home working, providing quiet working spaces, excusing employees from larger meetings and offering additional supervision or support.
Encourage your colleague to seek help
If they have not already done so, you should encourage your colleague to seek appropriate advice and support, such as making an appointment to speak to their GP. Your organisation might also have its own employee assistance programme with resources such as counselling.
(Please remember that this information is only a guide and that your own organisation may have its own HR advice or policies in place to assist you in similar situations.)
Specialist information and resources
Below you'll find links to a range of specialist resources and further information to help you get it right.
Mental Health Foundation
NHS inform (Scotland)
- Approaching a sensitive conversation regarding mental ill health
- Managing staff experiencing mental ill health
Rethink Mental Illness