Mental Health Toolkit: Talking about mental health problems and dealing with disclosure
Conversations about wellbeing should be part of the regular dialogue within your team. But if you think someone is having particular difficulties, it’s important to talk to them about it early on. This can help you understand the situation. You can then work together to agree appropriate adjustments to prevent things from getting worse. Bear in mind that mental health problems affect different people in different ways. You may have to adapt your approach to suit different individuals.
The staff member may be concerned that information will be passed on to senior management or other team members. Reassure them that you won’t share anything with team members unless you have their permission.
Let them know if there’s anything you do have to pass on to senior management and why. You may have to break confidentiality if the staff member is experiencing a crisis and at serious risk of harm.
Starting the conversation
Something as simple as ‘How are you?’ is a good place to begin. Choose honest and open questions rather than avoiding the issue completely, or referring to it indirectly.
- You seem a bit down lately. Is everything OK?
- I’ve noticed you’ve been late with a few pieces of work recently. I wanted to check whether everything is OK and if there is anything I can do to help?
- I saw you were quite upset yesterday [when you were talking to…], [on the phone]. Is everything OK?
Listening and responding appropriately
The way you listen and respond to your employee will affect how much they tell you, and how comfortable they feel about further disclosure.
Ask simple, open questions — let them explain in their own words. Give them time and be prepared for some silences. Don’t interrupt or impose your opinions or ideas.
Show empathy and understanding. Don’t make assumptions about what they’re experiencing or try and guess how it will affect their work. Remember that lots of people are still able to work effectively, despite managing a mental health problem.
It’s OK to admit that you don’t know much about a condition or diagnosis. Ask questions about how it affects them and what they think the implications are, if any, for their work.
Example phrases and questions:
- I’m really sorry to hear that things have been so hard.
- It sounds like you’ve been having a difficult time lately.
- I’m really pleased you’ve chosen to speak to me about this.
- How do you feel this has been affecting your work?
- Is there anything you do at the moment that helps you manage how you feel / your condition?
- Have you asked anyone for support or talked to anyone else about this?
- What kind of support do you think might help?
- What would you like to happen now?
Example phrases and questions:
- Have you been in touch with our Employee Assistance Programme?
- It’s common to feel like you have to handle things on your own – but it’s always OK to seek help. Have you spoken to your GP about how you are feeling?
Check your employee feels comfortable and ask them what they would like to happen next. Put another catch-up in the calendar, but let them know they can come to you in the meantime if they need to. Ask HR for help if you’re feeling unsure.