By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Cookie Policy for more information.

How to talk about mental health at work

11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Talking about our mental health has never been more important. After all, we all have one. Especially in the workplace, poor mental health can negatively impact productivity and concentration, and make job performance suffer. Although more and more people are opening up about mental health, the stigma attached still makes it something many of us struggle to talk about. Statistics show that a staggering 58% of employees experience anxiety while only 9% of those are seeking mental health support.

This highlights the need to talk about our mental health, reduce the stigma and prevent many of the negative impacts that can build up by not talking. It sounds easier said than done, so we’ve outlined some tips to help you find the courage to approach your colleagues.

Signs of poor mental heath at work

Poor mental health at work can manifest in a number of ways:

  • Stress and burnout
  • Lack of interest in projects
  • Decrease in productivity and motivation
  • Unpredictable emotional reactions
  • Notable changes in moods and appetites
  • Low engagement levels
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lack of involvement in social activities with colleagues

Although these symptoms don’t always signal poor mental health, they do indicate that colleagues may need extra support and early intervention to avoid a build up of suppressed emotions and feelings. Opening the conversation and asking the right questions can help a colleague feel supported.  

Importance of talking about mental health at work

As work is a place we spend so much of our time, creating a safe environment to talk about mental health openly helps reduce the stigma, break down stereotypes and improve relationships and collaborations throughout the entire organisation.

Research shows that more than ever, people are struggling with their mental health, and it’s showing up in the workplace. Studies show that 48% of workers said their wellbeing declined in 2022, and 28% said they are miserable at work.

Nearly 1 in 4 employees met the criteria for “clinically relevant symptoms” of depression and would benefit from support from a qualified mental health professional.

Only 38% of HR respondents, in the CIPD 2022 Health and wellbeing at work survey, think line managers in their organisation are confident to have sensitive conversations and signpost staff to expert sources of help if needed.  

Deloitte’s 2022 mental health report also found that employees have a greater awareness of mental health than they did before the pandemic, with 37% of respondents saying that they now think more about their mental health.

Tips for talking to about mental health at work

Starting conversations about mental health can feel impossible, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are five tips to start conversations about important topics with your peers and colleagues.

Be approachable.

It’s unlikely that employees would discuss personal issues with people they lack trust in. Therefore, create a trusting and open environment. Show vulnerability and share experiences where relevant to encourage people to open up.

Arrange more 1-1s and coffees.

Especially when working from home, it can be even harder to provide a safe environment to have a chat with colleagues and demonstrate listening skills. But schedule regular 1-1s with colleagues and virtual coffees to show that you value personal check-ins and have time available dedicated to colleagues.

Ask open ended questions and ask twice.

Studies show that people are notorious for saying they’re fine, even when they don’t really feel that way. To combat this, ask open ended questions and ask them twice to show sincere time and interest in the answer. Questions such as “how are you feeling today?” or “ I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed yourself lately, is there anything I can do to help?” give colleagues the chance to explore further and open up. Download our pack of conversation starters here for some inspiration.

Share from experience.

While you don’t need to disclose anything too personal that you’re not comfortable sharing, relatability allows the other person to feel understood and seen. It reminds them they aren’t alone to feel the way they’re feeling and will encourage them to open up. Sharing your own experiences also reminds the person that you’re there to listen without judgement

Signpost supportive resources.

If people are uncomfortable opening up about their experiences with mental health, it can be really helpful to signpost resources they might be unaware of. This also shows that the office is an open environment for useful information and support. It also had the added benefit of encouraging colleagues to explore and check-in with themselves if they are struggling

How to make mental health more approachable at work

Before you approach others in your organisation, take some time to reflect and understand how your mental health is impacting areas of your work. Is it something that comes and goes within a few days? Does it last longer and impact the need for time off or workplace accommodations? Is it caused by work factors such as job responsibilities or communication? Understanding your needs first makes it easier to communicate them to others. It gives them more context that will help them to create more supportive plans for you.

Next, be patient with yourself and others. Know that the journey to opening up at work is a process that won’t be resolved overnight. But taking the first step means that you can get the support you need. When you’re ready to open up, understand your limits and consider how much you feel comfortable sharing.

Do whatever feels right and share as much that will help keep your mental health impacting your job. Set a designated time and space to talk about your mental health but understand that it may be new territory for your manager. Give them time to take in the conversation and work out the right resources and support for you.