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How to start a conversation about Mental Health with your staff

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Mental Health is a major news topic at the moment especially as a recent study by the Office of National Statistics found that “In the year ending March 2021, average ratings of well-being have deteriorated. This is continuing a trend that was seen in the previous year, but even more sharply, and which notably takes place entirely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. One in six adults experienced some form of depression in summer 2021 (21 July to 15 August, Great Britain), compared with one in ten before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020)” Coronavirus (COVID -19) Latest insights: Wellbeing

Mental health issues such as stress, depression or anxiety account for almost 70 million days off sick per year, the most of any health condition, costing the UK economy between £70-£100 billion per year.

Employers are being asked to ensure that their staff are not struggling with their mental health but this can be a little overwhelming especially if it is not a topic you have never broached before.

So firstly, what is Mental Health?

“Mental Health is defined a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his/her community” (World Health Organisation 2014)

We all have Mental Health and it is shown by the way we think, the way we feel and our sense of wellbeing. When we talk about Mental Health we are not always talking about Mental Illness.

We have become much more comfortable over the years to talk about our physical health but we are still unsure when we talk to others about their mental health.

How do you recognise the signs that someone may be struggling?

Often there are triggers that lead to changes in our Mental Health. Some life events such as bereavement or relationship breakdown can adversely effect someone’s wellbeing. However, there may be no obvious cause as to why a person is feeling mentally unwell. We are all individual and we all react differently to the situations around us.

There may be some signs that someone may have poor mental health. You may notice that they are always tired or more withdrawn than normal. They may be tearful or appear distracted. They may be uncooperative at work or they may have issues with timekeeping or productivity. The reality is there may be many ways in which a person may reveal they are having problems – the key is to notice a change in behaviour and then talk to them about it.

Starting a conversation about mental health can feel uncomfortable and you may feel that you are moving into new territory for you and your staff. However, the more you talk about mental health and the more you encourage your staff to respond the easier it gets.

It is fundamentally a human connection between two people. It is showing genuine concern about another’s wellbeing. You should act with compassion and have a genuine interest in starting a conversation. Your staff need to trust you and they will need reassurance that you are there to support them, not to judge them.

Choose a private space to start the conversation, somewhere you can both feel comfortable. A neutral space such as a coffee shop can sometimes feel less intimidating. Its important to give enough time for the conversation and to ensure that you will not be interrupted. Don’t just ask them how they are – most people will reply with “I’m fine!” Ask them how they are feeling because you have noticed that they don’t seem to be themselves. Share instances of where you have concerns.

Listen to what they say to you. Respect their feelings, experiences and values even if you do not share them. Ask them how long they have been feeling like this, who do they have to give them support and ask if there is anything you can do to help. The most important thing is to be genuine and show that you care. It may be useful to have an awareness of suitable resources that you can share with them. Direct them to national organisations such as MIND – their website has a whole host of useful articles and downloadable support packs. Encourage them to contact their GP – they may not be mental health specialists but they can refer onto the relevant services and treatment.

For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who is experiencing a mental health issue download the free Line Managers’ Resource from

If a person talks about thoughts of suicide or self-harming remain calm and do not be afraid of continuing the conversation. You will not be putting thoughts into their head that were not there already. If you feel that the person is at real risk of suicide do not hesitate to call 999. Stay with the person until professional help arrives.

Talking to a person experiencing mental distress can be shocking and unsettling. It is very important that you take steps to protect your own mental health. It is OK to have boundaries - don’t agree to giving any support that would put you under too much pressure or makes you feel uncomfortable.

Action for Happiness has produced an evidenced based 10 Keys for Happier Living. These are areas where we can all take practical action to boost our wellbeing and help prevent depression and anxiety. It is important to identify those things that boost your sense of wellbeing and improve your mood. These will be individual to you whether its going for a run, playing a musical instrument, practicing meditation or chatting to friends. Find those things that give you joy and actively include them in your life.

Do not feel guilty for prioritising your own mental health – you cannot help others if you don’t firstly take care of yourself.

To find out more about Mental Health

For more information about training for you or your staff on Adult Mental Health Awareness or Mental Health First aiders contact Total Wellbeing Matters.

Get Mental Health trained

If you are considering training to achieve your Mental Health First Aid qualification, the next training dates are 3 & 4th February 2022 – book now to secure your place on the course.

Amanda Whitlock

If you have a group of staff you wish to train or would prefer to host a training course for your team, speak to Amanda to discuss the options.

Article written by Amanda Whitlock, Mental Health & Wellbeing Consultant and owner of Total Wellbeing Matters.

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