How to Have a Conversation About Mental Health

When you’re concerned about a colleague, it can be tough to know how to talk to them about your concerns. If you think a colleague is struggling with their mental health, don’t ignore it. Be aware that talking about personal struggles can be difficult and they might get emotional, embarrassed or upset.

  • When a conversation may be needed
  • Have you noticed more fear, anxiety, anger, irritability, sadness and emptiness? Are they withdrawn, quiet, mood swings?
  • Have you noticed them being less engaged and more disconnected? Has the person’s behaviour or thinking changed?
  • Concentration, distraction, memory, communication – sentences with hesitation, silences or no ending?
  • Is the person distant, overprotective, jumpy, denying or avoiding, taking risks, hungover or impaired, doing things like taking risks on site?
  • Sometimes it’s just a gut feeling. Trust your gut!
  • Think about the right place and the right time
  • Maybe at a park, over a coffee, offsite; somewhere quiet and private.
  • No special skills are needed, you just need to be:
  • Empathetic - try and put yourself in their shoes
  • Approachable – don’t judge and don’t try and have all the answers
  • Willing to listen – give them your full attention
  • And let them know it’s confidential!
  • How to start the conversation
  • Start with...
    • "How are you doing?"
    • "What’s happening in your world?"
    • "How’s life?"
    • "How’s the family?"
  • If they’re okay talking, then mention specific things that have made you concerned, such as "You don't seem yourself - anything up?"
  • How can you support them?
  • Let them know you’re asking because you’re concerned about them.
  • If they get upset or angry, stay calm, don’t take it personally.
  • Ask questions about what is going on like:
    • Have you spoken to anyone else about this?
    • What would help you manage the load?
    • What can we change to make life easier?
  • Don’t interrupt or rush, be patient and listen. Take it seriously.
  • What next?
  • Think about what other support they may need such as the Employee Assistance Program, their family doctor, family, friends, church leaders, and help them to contact them.
  • Avoid assuming what they may need.
  • Ask them things like:
    • "How can I help?"
    • "What would be a good first step?"
    • "What has helped before?"
  • Follow up in a couple of days.

Recovery starts with a conversation!
Tips for Starting a Conversation About Depression