How to support an employee struggling with their mental health

No mental health issue is the same. For HR teams, this means that the way you support employees experiencing poor mental health should vary depending on the individual. We’ve rounded up some tried and tested methods for helping anyone in your team who’s struggling, from how to have an open conversation to handy resources to have at your disposal.

Company Culture

⋅ min read

While World Mental Health Day (WMHD) falls on the same day each year – 10th October – it’s important to remember that no mental health issue is the same. For HR teams, this means that the way you support employees experiencing poor mental health should vary depending on the individual. We’ve rounded up some tried and tested methods for helping anyone in your team who’s struggling, from how to have an open conversation to handy resources to have at your disposal.

What is WMHD?

WMHD is an international day designed to raise awareness of, celebrate and provide education on mental health issues. It was set up by the World Foundation of Mental Health in recognition of the fact that talking about an issue is often the best way to overcome it. With one in four of us likely to experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives, it’s a conversation that we should all be having – not least for one day a year.

Every WMHD has a different theme in order to unite people and guide fundraising and charity efforts, which leads us nicely onto…

What is this year’s theme and why is it important? 

This year, the theme of WMHD is “mental health is a universal human right”. The premise of this theme is that wherever you come from, whatever your age or ethnicity or gender, you have the right to the best possible mental health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this includes “the right to be protected from mental health risks, the right to available, accessible, acceptable, and good quality care, and the right to liberty, independence and inclusion in the community.”

This theme is particularly important when you consider mental health in a business environment. Not only do people have the universal right to mental health, but the right to income generation. And all too often, mental health issues can prevent a person from excelling in their career – sometimes because it makes the 9 to 5 feel overwhelming and other times because companies aren’t fully equipped to deal with these situations. At Ben, we believe no one should suffer at work because of a mental health condition, and that training managers to provide the right support is essential to making work a safe and happy place.

As a manager, how can you help an employee with their mental health?

Ultimately, if your staff aren’t feeling their best, they won’t be performing as well as they could be, which will impact your bottom line. In fact, 12 billion days are lost every year due to depression and anxiety. So it’s in your best interest to look out for them and provide a helping hand when necessary. Here are some tips for keeping your employees’ mental health in tip top shape.

  1. Create a culture where it’s okay to open up

First and foremost, try to remove the stigma of mental health by encouraging everyone to talk about it. Everyone has some knowledge of poor mental health – whether you’ve experienced depression first hand or know someone with an eating disorder, for example – so everyone has a seat at the table. 

You could start a Slack group where people can exchange learnings or things that have helped them, or perhaps invite someone from senior leadership to talk at your company-wide meeting about their own personal experience with mental health. More junior employees might feel more comfortable opening up if they see more experienced members of the team leading by example. It could even be as simple as including some mental health-focused TED talks in your company newsletter to get the conversation flowing.

  1. Make sure mental health is factored into your benefits package

Since the pandemic, 81% of businesses have increased their focus on mental health. A simple way to do this is to factor in mental health to your employee benefits offering. If you already offer subsidised gym memberships for physical health, why not complement this with mental health support from an EAP or Spill

At Ben, we partner with a mental wellbeing community app called Augmentive, who connects employees with the right specialist, whether they’re looking to start therapy or seek guidance from a nutritionist. There are plenty of options out there, so don’t neglect your employees’ right to mental health when the solution could be just a few clicks away.

If you’re not sure where to start, follow our 5 steps to building an effective mental health programme.

  1. Learn how to spot the signs

It’s true that prevention is better than a cure, and this is no different when it comes to mental health. Why let your employees spiral into poor mental wellbeing when you could take steps to combat this early on? Companies like Mind offer valuable workplace training to help raise awareness of mental health, share tips for supporting employees and highlight stigma and discrimination (and how to tackle them). Training can also help you identify signs that someone might be struggling, such as:

  • Changes in someone’s behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • A reduction in their work output, motivation levels and focus
  • Difficulty making decisions and being disorganised
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
  • Changes in eating habits and appetite or increased smoking and drinking

It’s a good idea to make sure your organisation’s managers are familiar with this training so they're well placed to spot worrying signs and take action before it’s too late.

  1. Schedule some time for an honest conversation

Worried about someone you work with? Don’t put off organising a catch-up so you can work through the issue. Choose a safe place to talk – that might be somewhere neutral and outside the office, so ask if they’d like to go for a walk or get a coffee. Be careful of making assumptions before they’ve told you anything and of appearing judgmental; now is the time for you to listen. Remind them that whatever they tell you will be confidential (unless they’re posing a threat to themselves or others, in which case you should escalate the conversation). 

If the employee admits they’re struggling with a mental health condition, you might want to schedule regular catch-ups with them so you can review the situation. Create an action plan with clear steps so they feel in control. You could also let them know you’re always available to chat and suggest some resources they might find helpful. The Mental Health Foundation has a long list of suggestions, including talking to your GP and phoning the Samaritans.

  1. Point people towards helpful resources

It’s always a good idea to have a list of resources available to employees without them having to come to you. For example, if you have a company intranet, create a wellbeing section and add some helpful charities, websites and phone numbers for people to turn to if they’re struggling. Headspace offers a corporate subscription, for instance, that can help employees to de-stress through guided meditation. 

Allowing employees to access a list of approved resources gives them the opportunity to deal with their issues without involving anyone from work if they don’t want to. After all, nearly half of workers prefer to discuss their mental wellbeing with someone external. Make sure HR is aware of these resources and that they know which direction to point employees in if they come to them with a problem.

  1. Encourage a phased back-to-work process

If an employee needs to take time off work for mental health reasons, be sensitive to the fact that returning to work might be overwhelming. You’ll probably be having check-ins with them during their time out so this is a good time to gauge how they’re feeling about their return. If the idea of coming back to work is too stressful, you could suggest a phased return or postponing their start date. Here are some more tips for supporting an employee returning to work after mental health leave if you’re unsure of how to approach the situation.

There’s never been a better time to realign your working environment with positive mental health than this World Mental Health Day. Take a look at what these big-name companies are doing to support their employees’ mental health if you need some inspiration. Promoting good mental wellbeing is a big focus for us at Ben, and we can help you incorporate this into your employee benefits offering with flexible, self-serve perks. Give your people the power to choose the benefits that matter to them, giving them complete control over their health and wellbeing.

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