Starting the mental health conversation in the workplace

When it comes to mental health, it can be difficult to find the right words to comfort someone who’s suffering. While most of us know to avoid saying things like ‘just snap out of it’ or ‘focus on the good things,’ the fact is that saying nothing at all can be just as, if not more detrimental. Do you how to deal with an employee you think may be struggling? If you’re at a loss for words, keep reading.

Ask how they’re doing
We’re not just talking about a quick ‘how’s it going?’ in the hallway; to really connect with someone you need to ask how they are and mean it. Don’t be afraid to ask twice either. Most people are hardwired to say they’re fine but if you can see someone is struggling, asking again is much more likely to yield a response. Do this with tact, approaching tricky subjects in crowded environments is unlikely to help.

Give them your time
Make sure that you initiate a conversation when you can spare some time. If you need to rush off in a few minutes to attend a meeting, it’s unlikely that you will be able to give the conversation the time and attention it deserves. If you unexpectedly need to leave, ask them if they want to catch up later.

Keep it natural
When trying to open up a conversation about mental health, don’t worry too much about the setting. To make it seem less serious, you could bring up the conversation during a car journey or ask them to walk with you at lunch.

Find their preferred method of communication
Sometimes people find it easier to express their true feelings via email or text so don’t be afraid to reach out through these mediums if you feel it would be more effective.

Share your own experiences
Everyone has their own story to tell and once you start to open up, it can encourage others to do the same. That’s not to say you need to suddenly spill your deepest secrets or talk about anything you feel uncomfortable with, it’s simply about creating an atmosphere of openness and honesty. One of the main reasons why people don’t talk about mental health is because they’re afraid of other’s responses. Once you’ve taken away this worry, they will hopefully feel more comfortable to speak up.

Know when to retreat
If it’s clear that someone isn’t ready to talk, don’t push it. This may only serve to make them more withdrawn and won’t help with building a relationship of trust and respect. If you’re met with closed responses, let them know you are there to talk when they’re ready.