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How to Support an Employee Who Is Struggling with a Mental Health Issue

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Talking about mental illness isn’t easy, especially at work. But it’s essential, as a leader, that you’re prepared to have conversations, particularly with employees who are struggling. Here are several things you can try to make sure you’re a well-equipped mental health ally to an employee who you’re concerned about.

  • Prepare yourself. Think about any assumptions or preconceptions you may have about mental health conditions and the people who deal with them — then, discard them. Educate yourself on the mental health resources your organization offers. And consider your own history with mental health, and whether you’d be willing to share your experience with others.
  • Find a good time to chat. Keep an eye out for signs that the employee is struggling. Watch for lack of concentration, missed deadlines, decreased communication, or repeated, unexplained absences. Try to pick a “good day” when your colleague seems approachable or relaxed. (And remember, some people show no outward signs of struggle or work concerns, so you can’t always assume that someone isn’t struggling merely based on their appearance or work performance.)
  • Start gently. Talking about mental health should feel normal. Simply asking, “How are you feeling today?” or “How was your weekend?” or “How’s that assignment going?” can create space for the discussion. Of course, don’t force the conversation — follow the employee’s lead. Strike an open, genuine, and empathic tone. A casual, non-confrontational approach can facilitate a more open dialogue.
  • Reassure. Remind them of how they were able to overcome challenging tasks in the past, reassuring them that things will be OK, and making them feel valued and needed. Many people with mental illness fear being disliked, abandoned, or rejected once others learn of their issue. So continue to have regular conversations while gently checking in.

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