Having a conversation about mental health

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How to have a conversation about mental health

As a manager, you will want to support your employees with their mental health. Having an open conversation about mental health is central to achieving this.

You may suspect that your employee struggles with their mental health and this is affecting their work. Or you may just want to be proactive in having the conversation. This means that if there is anything you should know, your employee feels like they have a space to discuss it.

So why is it so hard to have this conversation?

Many managers say that they don’t want to make things worse or cause more stress for the person. They might not be sure what language to use, or they might assume that if there is a problem the employee will raise it themselves.

If there is an impact on their work or behaviour, an employer might be worried about raising mental health issues as they do not want to be discriminatory.

Where and how can you raise issues with someone?

Choose an appropriate time and neutral place where there is privacy. Normal one-to-ones or appraisal meetings can be used, or an informal chat may provide a safe space to ask how things are going. This can be followed up by a more formal meeting if needed.

During the meeting it is important to be specific about your concerns and ensure that the person knows you want to help and support them and that it is part of the line manager role to offer support when needed.

The focus should be on the impact on work in the first instance. Asking, “how can I help you at work?” is a good opener and sets a supportive environment, focusing on your managerial responsibilities to help someone to carry out their duties.

You can also reinforce that managers are there to help with any work problems and they need to know if work is a contributing factor to stress and mental ill health.

Make sure you communicate any concerns at the earliest opportunity. Ideally be proactive in having a conversation about mental health with all team members even before you feel like you need to.

During the meeting

Be clear about your purpose for doing so (support).

Be mindful about how you’re communicating: what you say and how you say it. Try to maintain good eye contact, have open body language and do not be distracted whilst they are talking to you.

Be sensitive to what the employee needs.

Inform the employee what you have observed, not your opinion about what might be the problem.

Give the employee time and space to talk. You can do this by asking open questions and then actively listening.

Do not react if anger is directed at you.

Do not assume the problem is work related, and do not assume that work pressures affect everyone in the same way.

Try to understand how the employee views the situation. Practising empathy will help you come across as authentic.

If your employee does open up to you about a mental health difficulty, do not assume you are the expert. Listen to what they say and follow up with more research if necessary.

Signpost them to where they can find additional support.

Additional support

You do not need to do this on your own.

  • If you think it would be of value, ask for a third person to sit in the meeting. A member of HR would be a good choice.

  • Also think about who might be able to support you with this employee. For example, HR, Occupational Health, Trade Union reps, your manager, or the employee’s GP.



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