It’s not always easy to discuss mental health and wellness—especially in a work setting.
But sometimes, talking with your co-workers can really help them—and you—feel a little less overwhelmed, a little less stressed, and a lot more supported.
While it should never be required to discuss mental well-being at work, the simple act of checking in can make all the difference. Your colleagues may be going through more than they show (especially now, when home lives and work lives are so closely intermixed) and bottled-up feelings can lead to stress, burnout, and other mental health challenges.
And, while it may seem daunting to start these conversations, it really doesn't have to be.
Here are some tips to follow (and some pitfalls to avoid) to help you navigate these conversations in a way that’s gentle, useful, and supportive.
- Create a safe space
Help the person feel comfortable enough to open up by creating a safe space that invites them to speak if they want to, without expectation. You don’t want to pressure them into opening up, nor do you want to make a big deal out of it if they choose to do so. This is about giving them a choice and normalizing these conversations.
Sometimes it helps to share your own vulnerabilities and well-being issues openly and without judgement. But only if you feel comfortable doing that.
- Let them speak without rushing to offer solutions or “fixing” the issue
Just knowing that someone is making an effort and is there to listen can be a huge support. It doesn’t make mental health challenges go away, and it’s no replacement for professional help, but sometimes people simply need to be heard without judgment. If you can do that for them, you’re helping!
- Be mindful of the line between supportive and overstepping
Checking in doesn’t mean taking on the role of a therapist and attempting to diagnose or psychoanalyze the other person. You can be there to offer a listening ear and friendly support—often that’s enough. If they need more help than you can give, don’t be afraid to guide them to a professional. It may feel like a cop-out, but it really isn’t—it’s in everyone’s best interests, and professionally trained support resources will know how to offer assistance.
- Continue to check in
Conversations around mental health usually aren’t one-off, check-the-box situations. Do be mindful of your own capacity to handle these conversations. If you think you can’t be there for a co-worker without it impacting your own mental health, don’t be afraid to refer them to other support options such as your HR team or Employee Assistance Program.
- Champion mental health and well-being resources in your workplace
Become an advocate for mental health at work. Before you begin, you might want to review the policies and practices currently in place to support mental well-being, so you can see the resources that feel most relevant. And your HR leaders may be open to new ideas—like starting an employee resource group, setting up regular mindfulness sessions, or actively suggesting pre-meeting relaxation time and regular out-of-office walks.
The most important thing to remember is that, while helping others, you shouldn’t forget to take care of yourself as well. Make sure you have someone you can talk to, and don’t feel obligated to sacrifice your mental wellness for somebody else’s. In all situations, always err on the side of caution. Don’t hesitate to refer your colleagues to EAPs and more professional help if they need it.
These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they’re vitally important. And they can make a big difference to the people around you. Being alert and giving people chances to open up and be heard can genuinely make a difference in someone’s work-life.
Need some more guidance? Download our Manager’s Checklist to help you navigate these conversations (we recommend checking it out, even if you’re not a manager!).
You may also want to read Feeling OK About Not Feeling OK At Work. This article is full of useful tips about the importance of talking about how you’re feeling and what you and your colleagues can do to help each other. In a similar vein, Creating a Culture of Self-Care in the Workplace offers ideas about encouraging self-care for yourself and others at work.