Conversations about mental health can be difficult because you don't want to cause offence, harm any relationship, or you're just not sure how to respond in these situations. It's why some people might try and avoid having them. However with the right set-up, these conversations can be very supportive, respectful and helpful.

We're going to take a more in-depth look at how to talk about a person's state of mental health at work, from a manager's perspective, and from an employee's perspective.


If you need help or just someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.


What to do if you're a manager

How to talk it out

As a manager, it's important to provide your team a safe space to chat about anything. Here are some ways on how to talk about and discuss mental health issues with your team:

  • Plan ahead - Find out what support services or EAPs are available at your workplace. Make sure you have their name and number to hand out to others, and know what policies you have in place; For example, does your company offer leave for a staff member experiencing domestic and family violence?

  • Speak openly about mental health at work - You'll be promoting a positive working environment where team members will feel more comfortable opening up and having conversations about mental health.

  • Have a safe space to talk - Find a private space to talk with a staff member, where neither of you will be interrupted.

  • Listen properly - Be respectful, kind, and never make assumptions about the motivations behind someone's behaviour. With a caring tone, explain your observations and how you are concerned for the staff member, and would like to offer support.

  • Encourage action if possible - If a staff member has shared their struggles with you, encourage them to get support or to proactively do something to help ease their mind. You may not have the answers or be able to offer professional mental health advice, but you can help show them the pathway to consider the next steps to manage their situation.

  • Check in - It's important to check in on the staff member and see how they're doing. If the person is still struggling, they have not been able to reach out for mental health support. Should that be the case, discuss ways you might be able to support them, such as helping them phone the company's health or EAP service, and providing time off to see their GP.

You don't have to be a mental health expert

Sometimes a staff member just wants someone to listen to their worries. However, if you feel like the worries being raised are beyond you, or the employee is contacting you outside of hours to get ongoing mental health support from you, it is time to get a more experienced person involved.

Kindly tell the person they need professional help and direct them to their GP or health or EAP service, even if you sit with them while they make initial contact. If they continue to rely on you, advise the person you now feel out of your depth and you will be asking a person from the HR team to contact them directly to provide ongoing guidance.

What to do if you're an employee

How to talk it out

Talking about mental health to someone at work can be an intimidating process. You don't know how your manager will react, you may be embarrassed to share too much information, or you're not sure how they could even help. Don't worry, there are a number of constructive ways to open a dialogue about mental health with your manager, and what to do afterwards.

  • Timing and location - Let your manager know you'd like a chat with them about a personal matter, then agree on a time that suits you both where no interruptions are likely to occur.

  • Be prepared - Your manager can't read your mind so make sure you're prepared in how to explain your mental health concerns to them. You don't need to tell them your history and diagnoses. Rather, focus on what you need from your workplace, so your manager can support you in a meaningful way. Write your plans down beforehand so you can refer to them. If your GP or therapist have made recommendations for you, take these recommendations along with you, and work through them with your manager.

  • Confirm privacy and confidentiality - Before going into further detail, check that you are speaking with the best person in your company, and state you want this conversation to remain private and confidential, unless you consent for them to share your information with another specific person in order to get the right help.

  • Seek advice from your GP or mental health clinician beforehand - Have a chat with your GP or therapist before meeting your manager as practice for how you will discuss your needs with your manager. With your consent, your therapist may agree to a joint session with your manager so that they can help you explain your situation.

Signs that your own mental health is impacting you at work

Sadly, due to the impact of COVID-19 and other life stressors, more people are being impacted by mental ill health, either their own, or someone they love. While a person's state of mental health is a private matter, it can impact you in the workplace. When your mental health declines, at work you might be more teary, more withdrawn, it might be harder to make decisions, you might be late to work or call in sick, your might also appear distracted, tired and agitated.

If you feel like your mental health is interfering with your normal work load, it is good to get support earlier on. Left untreated, mental health issues tend to worsen where more support might be required to get you back on track. Furthermore, your drop in work performance may be mistakenly perceived by others as a poor work attitude, leading to a meeting with your manager. If this happens, it is a good idea to explain to your manager your change in work performance is related to your mental health, and you would like support.

How you can get support for your mental health concerns

Depending on where you work, you can approach your direct manager, your human resources department or your company's health service provider (such as the company's Employee Assistance Program or Sonder).

If you contact Sonder or your EAP program, this is outside work channels and your information will remain confidential to the company you work for, with some exceptions. You may give consent for your information to be shared with your employer in order to get specific assistance. If your or another person's safety is at risk, then limited information may be shared with your employer in order to help keep you or the person safe.

What to do if you notice a work mate is struggling with their mental health

Whether you are a manager or an employee, you might notice when others appear to be struggling with their mental health by observing the same symptoms.

So, how do you ask if a work mate or work colleague is okay? Find a time and a quiet space where you can check in with them by asking, "Are you okay? You seem a bit distracted, like you might have a lot on your plate?"

Make sure you both have the time to respond where neither of you will be interrupted, or organise a better time to catch up by suggesting, "I want to be able to help you. Let's meet up after our shift and go for a walk."

Having these conversations helps build a workplace environment where staff members can feel safe and supported. Not everyone will want to speak about their mental ill health, however, making the offer to chat and to explain the support available through the workplace, can be enough to help a person who is struggling.

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If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: HBR, Heads up, Indeed, Pilot, and Reach Out

Image credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com at Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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