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The topic of mental health is one that has been in the spotlight in recent years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became something that more and more people started talking about. The pandemic highlighted a lack of support for people suffering with mental health problems. This was particularly true in the workplace with the pressures that arose around working from home, furlough, potential redundancies and juggling childcare with a job.

Talking about mental health – either our own or other people’s – has long been a topic that is avoided. The British way is to show a stiff upper lip and remain stoic in the face of stress, anxiety and depression. That situation is thankfully changing. Everyone has ‘mental health’. Sometimes it will be good and other times it will be poor. Recognising the signs of mental ill health in yourself and others is vital, especially if you are an employer.

What causes mental ill health?

There are so many things that can cause someone to have ill mental health. It can range from having a diagnosed mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, or borderline personality disorder; to having financial worries, discrimination, bereavement, domestic abuse, physical health problems, and even being unable to access the right support.

Every person in the world has different limits, life experiences, and coping mechanisms. These things impact how much someone is able to deal with in their life. While you may be able to deal with an issue without it having a negative impact on your mental health, does not mean that another person would react in the same way. This is really important to remember.

How does this impact work?

A lot of us spend most of our time working. With no locker outside work to unload our personal life into, and still having thoughts swimming around our heads, our mental health will inevitably have an impact on us when we are in work.

When you are suffering from ill mental health it can show itself in many different ways. Some people become quieter than normal and shut down. Others may become snappy and more irritable than normal.

As everyone will be affected in a different way, it’s important that as a manager or business owner, you take the time to get to know what’s ‘normal’ for your employees. That way, when something isn’t quite right, you will notice the  change and be able to intervene and provide support

When to ask “are you ok?”

It’s important to remember that asking someone if they are ok can be a massive positive in their life. It shows that you care and that you’re willing to listen to them and hear what they have to say. Not everyone will want to talk, so don’t force them to. Letting them know that you’re there for them is the most important thing.

Listening skills are really useful in these situations. Most of the time, we listen to what people are saying and start thinking about what we want to say in reply. In situations like this, a reply isn’t always necessary. When someone is struggling with ill mental health, the most important thing you can do for them is to listen without judgement. You may not agree or you may not understand, but by listening to them and offering to help them access the right help, your input could be more valuable than any opinion you could offer.

What happens if they say “no”?

If you’ve asked someone if they are ok and they tell you they are not, this can be frightening. Especially if they open up about what’s been going on and how they are feeling. We tend to want to be able to fix things for people, but in these situations, we need to remember that this isn’t our job.

Yes, you can be a supportive manager, friend, or colleague and listen to this person. You can point them in the direction of services and professionals who can help guide them through what’s happening in their life.

Again, we can’t force people to do anything they don’t want to. You may find that the individual you’re talking to really does want to get the help, but they just aren’t ready to ask for it yet. Be patient. When dealing with ill mental health, small things can become a really big issue and cause fear.

Regular catch-ups

You can arrange to have a regular catch up with this person. That way, they know that you care, they can update you on how they are feeling, and what treatments/support they are receiving.

Not everyone has a network of people in their lives they can trust. Talking to you on a regular basis may be the release they need to help them through this difficult time.

Where to get help

If you are concerned about how to deal with an employee HR mental health issue, contact us for confidential and professional advice as soon as possible. It is important that you understand the legal and statutory frameworks before starting any processes.

Below are some links to other general mental health guidance:

Home | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems

Mental Health Foundation

Get help from a mental health charity – NHS (

SANE: The mental health charity


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