It’s World Mental Health Day

How can we support each other?


Mental health problems affect one in six British workers each year and we know that mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence. All too often in our workplaces, mental health is still a taboo subject. Unfortunately, it is still the case that employees are worried to talk to managers and colleagues about how we are really feeling, and problems can spiral.

So how can we support each other to talk openly at work about how we REALLY are?

“How are you?” “Are you okay?” When we ask these questions, are we really in a position to listen?

“I’m fine”. How often do we say this when we are not? Let’s be honest.

We all have mental health as we all have physical health and we all have good and bad days. We know that having conversations about how we really are with a colleague can break down that stigma.

How can we help each other to answer honestly?

We know that starting a conversation about someone’s wellbeing can be difficult. Maybe we are worried about making things worse, not knowing how to respond, saying the wrong things, feeling like we are crossing boundaries, or not feeling like we have the skills. Our minds can conjure up all sort of reasons not to ask, to hold back. Of course they do, because we care and we certainly don’t want to make things worse. But all the evidence tells us that this is not the case.

Here are just a few simple, practical ideas that might help our colleagues open up to us and talk about how they are really feeling.

  • Find a time and a place to talk when you know you won’t be interrupted. It might sound obvious, but this is a big factor that influences how we open up. We need to feel safe.
  • What to say
    Try some open questions about how someone is feeling. Maybe refer to something you have noticed that concerns you. Ask “How are you feeling at this moment/today?” Ask how long they have been feeling like this.
    Tell the person that you are there to listen. Evidence shows that being asking direct questions can encourage us to be honest about how we are feeling. People often feel relieved and less isolated when they are asked.
  • Listen without judgement
    Respect the person’s feelings and experiences even though they may be different from yours. You can show you are really listening by reflecting what they are saying. This may be as simple as saying ‘That sounds really tough’. Try and listen without interrupting.
  • Resist the urge to fix it
    As humans, we are natural problem solvers and often want to fix things. You may feel like you need to have the answers but just listening and empathising can make a big difference.
  • Signpost– Ask who else they feel they can go to for support. Let them know that there is help available. This might be within work (e.g.HR, Employee Assistance Programme, Occupational Health) or outside (e.g. GP).