How To Talk To An Employee With Mental Health Issues

Share This Post

Initiating a conversation about mental health with an employee requires sensitivity, discretion, and planning. The goal is to create a safe, non-judgmental space where the employee feels supported and understood. But how do you start such a conversation, and what should you keep in mind to ensure it’s effective and respectful? 

Taking the correct measures early can help to avoid further issues such as disciplinary procedures or the possibility of dismissal that may be inappropriate for a member of staff with mental health issues that could be better supported. 

Preparation is key. Choose a private and comfortable setting away from the hustle of the workplace to ensure confidentiality and minimise distractions. Ensure you have enough time set aside so the conversation isn’t rushed.

Approach with Empathy and Without Assumptions

Begin the conversation with empathy and openness, avoiding any assumptions about the employee’s condition or how they should feel. A simple expression of concern based on observations, such as changes in behaviour or performance, can be a good starting point. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been seeming quite [specific observation] recently, and I’m concerned about you. How are you feeling?”

Listen Actively and Offer Support

Active listening is important. Allow the employee to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable, without pressing for details. Acknowledge their feelings and experiences, and offer support, emphasising that their well-being is a priority. It’s important to clarify that the conversation is confidential and aimed at understanding how you can best support them.

Provide Information on Available Resources

Inform the employee about available mental health resources and support, including any services provided by your organisation, such as Oxford CBT’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) service. However, ensure this is done in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re prescribing a solution but rather offering options for support.

Plan Follow-Up and Adjustments as Needed

Conclude the conversation by discussing potential adjustments to their work environment or schedule that could help, and plan a follow-up to revisit how they’re feeling and any further support needed. It’s vital to make it clear that this is the start of an ongoing dialogue, not a one-off conversation.

Recognising the Signs of Poor Mental Health in Employees

After establishing the approach to talking about mental health, recognising the signs that an employee might be struggling is the next important step. Signs can be subtle or overt and may affect their performance, behaviour, and interactions with colleagues. Key indicators include changes in productivity, mood swings, withdrawal from social activities, and increased absenteeism or presenteeism. Being aware of  these signs early can enable timely and supportive conversations, fostering a culture of openness and care within the workplace.

What Are the Legal Considerations When Talking to an Employee About Mental Health Issues?

When discussing mental health issues with an employee in the UK, it’s important to navigate the conversation with an awareness of legal considerations. UK employment law provides a framework designed to protect employees from discrimination and ensure their privacy and dignity. Understanding these legal aspects is essential for employers to handle such discussions appropriately and to support their employees effectively while staying compliant with the law.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is a cornerstone of UK employment law, protecting employees from discrimination due to, among other things, mental health conditions, which can be considered disabilities if they have a long-term effect on the individual’s normal day-to-day activities. This means employers must be cautious not to discriminate against employees with mental health issues, intentionally or unintentionally, during conversations or through their actions following such discussions.

Duty to Make Reasonable Adjustments

Under the Equality Act, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, including mental health conditions. This might involve adapting the work environment, modifying work schedules, or providing additional support to help the employee perform their duties. When discussing mental health issues, it’s important to explore potential adjustments to support the employee’s wellbeing and productivity.

Confidentiality and Data Protection

Conversations about mental health are sensitive and should be treated with the highest level of confidentiality. The UK’s Data Protection Act 2018, incorporating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), requires employers to handle personal data, including health information, lawfully, fairly, and in a transparent manner. This means any information shared by an employee about their mental health must be kept confidential and only shared with others on a need-to-know basis, with the employee’s consent.

Creating a Supportive Environment

While not strictly a legal requirement, fostering a supportive environment that encourages open discussions about mental health can help mitigate potential legal issues. This includes training managers on how to approach conversations about mental health sensitively and providing information to all employees about the support available, including external resources like Oxford CBT’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) service.

Documenting Conversations and Actions

Finally, while maintaining confidentiality, it’s advisable to document the key points of any conversation about mental health issues and any agreed-upon actions or adjustments. This documentation can provide clarity for future reference and help demonstrate the employer’s efforts to support the employee and comply with legal obligations.

How Should You Approach a Conversation About Mental Health Issues with an Employee?

Approaching a conversation about mental health with an employee is a delicate task that requires empathy, tact, and a strategic approach. The goal is to ensure the employee feels safe, supported, and understood, not judged or exposed. Here are steps and best practices for effectively initiating and conducting these sensitive discussions within the UK workplace context.

Initiate the Conversation with Care

Start by finding a private, comfortable space that ensures confidentiality and reduces the likelihood of interruptions. The setting can significantly impact the tone of the conversation. Approach the topic with sensitivity, indicating that you’ve observed changes (without making assumptions) and express genuine concern for their wellbeing.

Use Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions encourage dialogue, giving the employee the freedom to share as much or as little as they wish. Phrases like “How have you been feeling lately?” or “I’ve noticed you seem a bit [observation], is everything okay?” can open the door for them to discuss their feelings without feeling cornered or diagnosed.

Listen More Than You Speak

The art of active listening cannot be overstated in conversations about mental health. Listen to understand, not to respond. Show that you are there to support them, using non-verbal cues like nodding and maintaining eye contact, and verbal affirmations to validate their feelings.

Discuss Support Options Respectfully

Inform the employee about the support options available, emphasising that the conversation is not about making assumptions regarding their need for services but ensuring they are aware of their options. Highlight internal resources and external services like Oxford CBT’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), ensuring they understand how to access these resources should they choose to.

Maintain Confidentiality and Trust

Reassure the employee of the confidentiality of the conversation, emphasising that their privacy is paramount. Explain any necessary disclosures that might need to be made to access support, ensuring they consent to this.

Offer Practical Support and Follow-Up

Explore practical ways to support the employee, which could include adjustments to their workload, changes in working hours, or physical workspace adjustments. Agree on a follow-up plan to check in on their wellbeing, showing that your concern is ongoing and not just a one-time conversation.

Document Key Points with Sensitivity

While maintaining confidentiality, document the key points of the conversation and any agreed-upon actions or adjustments. This should be done with the employee’s knowledge and stored securely, respecting data protection laws.

Provide Training and Awareness

Ensure that managers and team leaders are trained on how to approach and handle conversations about mental health, fostering a culture of openness and support throughout the organisation.

Approaching mental health conversations with empathy, respect, and a clear action plan reinforces a culture of support and understanding within the workplace. It underscores the organisation’s commitment to the wellbeing of its employees, creating a safer and more inclusive work environment.

How Do You Inform Employees About the Mental Health Support Available to Them?

Informing employees about the mental health support available is an important step in fostering a supportive and healthy workplace environment. Transparency and accessibility are key to ensuring employees feel comfortable and empowered to seek help when needed.

Clearly Outline Available Resources

Start by compiling a comprehensive list of the mental health resources available through your organisation, including details on how to access them. This list might include in-house support options, external services (like ourselves at Oxford CBT), counselling services, and digital mental health tools. Ensure this information is readily accessible to all employees, perhaps through an internal website, employee handbook, or dedicated mental health resource pack.

Regular Communication

Make mental health support a regular topic of discussion within the workplace. This can be achieved through various channels such as email newsletters, staff meetings, and dedicated mental health awareness events. Regularly updating employees on available resources ensures that new staff members are informed and reminds existing staff of the support options available to them.

Training Sessions and Workshops

Organise training sessions or workshops focusing on mental health awareness and the specific resources available to employees. Inviting experts from organisations like Oxford CBT to speak at these sessions can provide valuable insights and demonstrate the practical support available. These sessions can also be an opportunity for employees to ask questions in a safe and supportive environment.

Create a Culture of Openness

Encourage a workplace culture where talking about mental health is normalised and supported. Leaders and managers should lead by example, openly discussing mental health and well-being, and sharing their own experiences or acknowledgements of using mental health resources. This openness can help to reduce stigma and encourage employees to seek help when they need it.

Utilise Employee Champions

Consider appointing mental health champions within your organisation. These are employees who are passionate about mental health awareness and can act as points of contact for colleagues looking for information on available support. They can play a key role in promoting resources and encouraging their peers to access support services.

Feedback and Continuous Improvement

Solicit feedback from employees about the mental health resources and support offered. Understanding their perspectives and experiences can help in refining and improving the support available. This feedback loop can ensure that the resources remain relevant and accessible to those who need them.

What Tools and Resources Can Support Employee Mental Health, and How Does Oxford CBT’s MHFA Service Fit In?

In addressing employee mental health, the right tools and resources are fundamental to creating an environment where individuals feel supported and empowered to seek help. Oxford CBT’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) service stands as a key component within a broader strategy aimed at enhancing workplace mental health. This section explores the diverse range of support available for mental well-being and the unique role of Oxford CBT’s MHFA service in this ecosystem.

A Spectrum of Mental Health Tools

Workplace mental health support encompasses a variety of tools and resources, from digital wellness platforms offering self-help tools and meditation apps to in-house counselling services and employee assistance programs (EAPs). These resources provide employees with multiple avenues to seek help, ensuring that support is accessible regardless of their specific needs or preferences.

Educational Materials and Workshops

Providing employees with educational materials on mental health and well-being, along with workshops led by experts, can significantly enhance mental health literacy within the workplace. These resources empower employees with the knowledge to understand their mental health better and encourage proactive management of their well-being.

Creating a Culture of Openness

A vital tool in supporting mental health is the cultivation of an organisational culture that prioritises and normalises mental health discussions. This involves leadership advocacy, peer support networks, and policies that encourage open dialogue about mental well-being without fear of stigma or reprisal.

Integrating Oxford CBT’s MHFA Service

Oxford CBT’s MHFA service enhances the available mental health support infrastructure by providing specialised training that empowers individuals to recognise and respond to signs of mental distress among their colleagues. MHFA training offers training participants to gain a comprehensive understanding of various mental health conditions, enabling them to identify signs and symptoms early on. MHFA equips employees with the skills to offer initial support to colleagues in distress, bridging the gap until professional help can be sought. This immediate support can be important in mitigating the impact of a mental health crisis. Beyond offering immediate support, MHFA-trained individuals can guide their colleagues towards professional resources, including therapy services provided by Oxford CBT or other mental health professionals.

The Role of Oxford CBT’s MHFA in the Workplace

Oxford CBT’s MHFA service does not operate in isolation but is a complement to the broader suite of mental health resources within an organisation. By training employees in MHFA, companies demonstrate a commitment to creating a supportive environment where mental health is taken seriously, and appropriate support is readily available.

This proactive approach to mental health training ensures that employees are not only cared for but also educated on how to care for each other, fostering a community of support within the workplace. Integrating MHFA training from Oxford CBT is a powerful step toward building a resilient, informed, and supportive workforce equipped to handle the complexities of mental health in a compassionate and effective manner.


In conclusion, fostering a supportive and healthy workplace environment where mental health is prioritised is essential for the well-being and productivity of employees. Starting with recognising the signs of mental health issues, employers need to approach conversations with empathy and understanding, ensuring that legal considerations are adhered to and that discussions are conducted in a manner that respects the employee’s privacy and dignity.

Educating employees on the available mental health support and ensuring they are aware of how to access these resources is a foundational step. Oxford CBT’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course stands out as a pivotal tool in this regard, offering comprehensive training that empowers individuals to recognise, understand, and assist colleagues who may be facing mental health challenges.

Integrating MHFA training into the workplace not only enhances the mental health support system but also contributes to a culture of openness and understanding. By adopting a holistic approach that includes a variety of tools and resources, from digital apps to educational workshops and MHFA training, organisations can create an environment where mental health is openly supported and prioritised.

The journey towards a healthier workplace involves continuous learning, adaptation, and commitment to employee well-being. By leveraging the strengths of programs like Oxford CBT’s MHFA, businesses can make significant strides in supporting their employees’ mental health, demonstrating a commitment to a supportive, understanding, and resilient workplace culture.

Begin your wellness journey

Get in touch with us and we will assess your needs and expertly pair you with the right clinician and services to get you on the path to embracing life.

To help personalise content and provide a better user experience, we use cookies. By clicking on accept, you agree to allow us to place these on your device. Learn more on our privacy policy.