Ambulance - supporting a colleague with a mental health problem

A guide for staff and volunteers in the ambulance service on how to support a colleague experiencing a mental health problem.

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Taryn Ozorio
Posted on 24/01/2011

How can I support a colleague to seek help for their mental health problem?

Our research shows that ambulance service personnel are more likely to seek help from a colleague than a GP, so the support you offer can be really valuable.

If a colleague lets you know that they are ready to seek help for their mental health problem, there are lots of things you can do to support them. For example:

  • Listen. Simply giving someone space to talk freely, without interruption or judgement,  can be really helpful in itself. If they're finding it difficult, let them know that you're there to listen when they are ready.
  • Stay calm. Even though it might be upsetting to hear that your colleague is distressed, try to stay calm. This will help them feel calmer too, and show them that they can talk to you openly without upsetting you.
  • Be patient. You might want to know more details about their thoughts and feelings, or want them to get help immediately. But it’s important to let them set the pace for seeking support themselves.
  • Try not to make assumptions. Your perspective might be useful to your colleague, but try not to assume that you already know what may have caused their feelings, or what will help.
  • Keep social contact. Part of the support you offer could be to keep things as normal as possible. This could include involving your colleague in social events, or chatting about other parts of your lives.
  • Learn more about the problem they experience, to help you think about other ways you could support them. Our website provides lots of information about different types of mental health problems, including pages on what friends and family can do to help. You can also read our information on seeking help for a mental health problem.

What can I do if someone doesn't want my help?

If you feel that your colleague is clearly struggling but can't or won't reach out for help, and won't accept any help you offer, it's understandable to feel frustrated. But it’s important to accept that they are an individual, and that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.

You can:

You can't:

  • Be patient. You won’t always know the full story, and there may be reasons why they are finding it difficult to ask for help.
  • Offer support and reassurance. Let them know you support them and you'll be there if they change their mind.
  • Inform them how to seek help when they're ready. For example, you could show them our information on seeking help for a mental health problem, which includes details about ambulance service-specific organisations that could help.
  • Look after yourself, and make sure you don't become unwell.
  • Force someone to talk to you. It can take time for someone to feel able to talk openly, and putting pressure on them to talk might make them feel less comfortable telling you about their experiences.
  • Force someone to get help (if they're over 18, and are not posing immediate danger to themselves or someone else). As adults, we are all ultimately responsible for making our own decisions. This includes when – or if – we choose to seek help when we feel unwell.
  • See a health care professional for someone else. A doctor might give you general information about symptoms or diagnoses, but they won't be able to share any specific advice or details about someone else without their consent.


If you’re worried about your colleague and you’re not sure what to do, you can call the Mind Blue Light Infoline. Our Infoline can give you confidential, independent and practical advice to help you support your colleague.

0300 303 5999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm)
text: 84999

This information was published in November 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

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