Supporting your Employees: What to do if an Employee Comes to You with a Mental Health Problem

Oct 13, 2023 | News

According to the World Health Organization, one in four people globally will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their life. This means that it’s highly possible that one of your employees will come to you someday with a mental health problem. For many managers this may feel like a moment where you are not sure what to do or say. In this article, we’ll discuss what things you can do to help in this situation and how you can best support your team member, as well as yourself.

Be Approachable

Before anyone comes to speak to you they have to feel safe to do so. If you want to encourage an environment that allows people to ask for the support and help they need you need to be approachable in the first place.

Being approachable involves a variety of attributes that encourage open and comfortable communication. Firstly, showing empathy and understanding can make you more approachable. This can be achieved by actively listening to the concerns of your employees and responding in a considerate and compassionate manner. Secondly, maintaining a positive and friendly manner can also help.

Lastly, regular communication and transparency about business matters can instil a sense of trust among the employees, making you more approachable.

Respect Confidentiality

Remember, it’s crucial to respect confidentiality and show a non-judgmental attitude when dealing with sensitive issues like mental health. Mental health problems are incredibly personal, and you need to be respectful of your employee’s privacy. Keeping confidentiality where you can is of utmost importance, no one wants to feel like their problems have been discussed or gossiped about with other people at work.

Be upfront about confidentiality and what you can and can’t do. For example, it may be that you are required to report to someone more senior than you or disclose information if you think there is a threat to a person’s safety. Know what your company policy is and what you can keep confidential so that you can be honest and upfront about this from the start.

Create the Right Environment

If your employee comes to you with a mental health problem, ask them if they are comfortable discussing the issue in the workplace. Creating a private and safe space to discuss mental health issues with a colleague is of utmost importance. To do this, choose a neutral and quiet location where interruptions are minimal. A private meeting room is ideal, but if not possible, a quiet corner of a public space can work too.

The environment should be relaxed and non-threatening. Remove any barriers, like desks or large tables, that may create a power dynamic or hinder open conversation. A circle or side-by-side seating arrangement can help maintain equality and comfort during the discussion. And remember, always have the discussion in person; this isn’t a conversation to be had over email or text. It may be that going for a walk or choosing a place away from the office would create a space where someone feels more able to open up.

Make Time

Having conversations about mental health can’t be rushed. Make sure you both have enough time in your diary when you are less likely to be rushing, stressed or preoccupied. If you do have only a limited time then this is sometimes better than none in order to get the conversation started. State at the start that you have only 30 minutes for now but that you can schedule some more time in together later should you need it. Don’t leave it, waiting for that perfect time.

Prioritise it over everything else and delegate if needs be so that you can honour and respect the courage that person has had in asking you for support.

Work on your Communication Skills

Active Listening

One of the most important communication skills when supporting someone’s mental health is active listening. This process involves not only hearing the words but also understanding and empathizing with the speaker. Nod your head and maintain eye contact to show that you are engaged. Avoid interrupting or offering solutions unless asked for; sometimes, people just need to be heard.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures can also convey empathy and understanding. Maintain open and friendly body language to put the person at ease.

Empathetic Language

Using empathetic language can help facilitate supportive conversations about mental health. Phrases like “That sounds really tough, I can’t imagine what you’re going through” or “I’m here for you” can show your support and understanding.

Open-Ended Questions

Try to ask open-ended questions to allow the person to express their feelings freely. For instance, instead of asking “You’re feeling anxious, right?”, you could ask “How are you feeling?”

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement such as praising the person for their courage in opening up about their mental health issues can boost their self-esteem and encourage them to seek help.

Remember, it’s not about fixing their problems, but about providing a safe and non-judgmental space where they can share their feelings and experiences.

Finally, try to offer support without being too pushy. It’s essential to let your employee know you’re there for them and that you care about their well-being, but respect their boundaries and don’t try to force them into discussing anything they are not ready to talk about.

Offer practical help and support

In addition to emotional support, consider offering practical help and resources. This could include providing information about mental health resources within the company or community, offering flexible work arrangements or time off for therapy appointments, or simply checking in regularly to see how they are doing. Ask them what they need right now rather than forcing things upon them, offer the support as options that you are making them aware of so that they can choose what feels right for them.

Remember, everyone is different and what works for one person won’t necessarily be the right thing for someone else. Showing an employee that you care, are willing to take time to listen and want to help will be of great value.

Keep in contact

Once an employee has disclosed their mental health problem, make a point to check in and see how they are doing. This will reassure them that you are still interested in their well-being and will encourage them to seek help.

It’s important not to forget about your employees who are struggling with mental health issues. Continue to show them that they are supported and valued members of the team. Work out with that person something that feels OK to them. Asking them every day if they are OK might feel like a bit much but not mentioning it again would leave them wondering if you had listened and understood. Ask them the question, “What would be the most helpful way in which I could support you through this?”

Educate Yourself

Take the time to educate yourself on mental health and common mental health issues. This will not only help you better understand what your employee may be going through, but it will also equip you with the knowledge to handle situations sensitively and effectively. Consider attending workshops or webinars, reading books or articles on mental health, or simply talking to a mental health professional for guidance. The more you know about mental health, the better equipped you will be to support your employees in their mental health journey.

Strive for a Healthy Work-Life Balance

As a manager, it’s crucial to promote a healthy work-life balance for your employees. Encourage taking breaks throughout the day, discourage working overtime, and provide support if there is a significant event happening in their personal life.

When your workplace promotes a positive work-life balance, your employees will be less likely to experience mental health issues. As a manager it is important you find ways to role model this yourself and protect your own well-being. Providing support to others can take its toll on you. Make sure you are looking after your own well-being and find someone to reflect with on how you managed the situation.


Supporting others’ mental health is now a key part of a manager’s role. We hope this post has helped you understand more about what you can do to help and taken away some of the fear around how to do this. By being present, taking the time to listen and responding in a compassionate and caring way you will have helped in ways that you will never really know. If you need help and support to know more then please get in touch with The Thrive Lab team.