Time to talk – starting a conversation about mental health

  • Person icon Mercia Group
  • Calendar icon 1 April 2021 09:00

Having a conversation about mental health and wellbeing with your team, however small the problem, could make a big difference. Although we are often encouraged to speak up, it isn’t always easy to start a conversation about mental health – whether for fear of judgement, a worry that it may harm promotion or career opportunities, or simply because you are unsure where to begin.

Opening a conversation about mental health not only has a significant impact on an individual level, but also showcases what your organisation stands for, its values and how you support your people. So, how do you open a conversation about mental health?

How are you? No really, how are you?

Ask someone how they are – twice. We often go through the motions when talking to our team and expect a response of “fine thanks”. Ask with purpose how someone is and then ask again. This simple act shows a genuine interest that you really want to know how someone is doing.  Often a team member may not feel comfortable bringing up their mental health uninitiated, so making the first move to open this dialogue may be useful. Remember, whilst there is no perfect time to have a conversation about mental health, these conversations should always be in a private and confidential setting. People may not feel comfortable discussing this with other colleagues, nor should they  be expected or put in a situation where they have to.


Listen actively. Active listening includes a range of techniques that keep us present and engaged in a conversation. These include things such as giving the person speaking your undivided attention, verbal and non-verbal feedback to show signs of listening and reflecting back what has been said. Encourage your team member to talk and show that you are listening, not just waiting for them to finish speaking so you can respond. Ask simple, open, non-judgmental questions which allow your team member to talk.

Share experience

We all have mental health. It is complex, affected by different factors and appears on a spectrum that moves from good to poor at given times in someone’s life. Whilst mental health and wellbeing can often feel a very lonely and isolating place, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind in England this year (Source: Mind.org.uk). Reminding people that their experiences are shared and sharing your own experiences (if you are comfortable to do so) can help to break down some of the stigma that does still exist around mental health, as well as helping others understand they are not alone in the challenges they are facing.

Signposting to support

Whilst you can be there to listen and support your team members, ensure that your team members and colleagues are aware of the expert support they have available to them – and most importantly how they access this. Depending on your organisation this may be internal Mental Health First Aiders, an employee assistance programme, or signposting to other expert sources of support – for example recommending a GP visit.  


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