If your colleague had a broken leg, you probably wouldn't think twice about asking how they were. Anyone can experience a mental health problem, so being able to talk about it is important to us all. And you don’t need to be an expert on mental health. Often, small everyday actions can make the biggest difference.
Show your support
If you know someone has been unwell, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it, or they might not. But just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important. Just spending time with the person lets them know you care and can help you understand what they’re going through.
Ask how you can help
People will want support at different times in different ways, so ask how you can help. For example, if your colleague wants to get more exercise, you could do this together.
Phrases like ‘Cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘Pull yourself together’ definitely won’t help. Be non-judgemental and listen. The person experiencing a mental health problem often knows best what is helpful for them.
Don’t just talk about mental health
Keep in mind that having a mental health problem is just one part of the person. People don’t want to be defined by their mental health problem, so keep talking about the things you always talked about.
Show trust and respect
Mental health problems can seriously damage a person’s self-esteem, and make them feel like they are personally and professionally worthless. By showing your colleague trust and respect at work, you can help to rebuild and maintain their sense of self-esteem. This will also help you to cope, as you will hopefully see your support having a positive impact on your colleague.
Look after yourself
It is important to maintain your own mental wellbeing – if you become unwell you will be less able to offer support.
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.
When I’ve had problems with my mental health or wellbeing, the most helpful thing has been the team's acceptance of me.
This information was published in November 2015. We will revise it in 2018.