How to approach employees with mental health issues


The following post was written by Chrissy Fields, from the United States. It’s an important post tackling what’s seen as a taboo and difficult subject: Mental ill health at work. At HALO Psychology, we are increasingly supporting managers who feel out of their depth in managing and supporting employees with with mental health issues. Chrissy’s posts hopefully breaks down some of the stigma and she offers some practical suggestions for questions that managers can (and should) ask.

Every year, approximately 41 million Americans experience some type of mental health problem. Research from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration say that this number comprises 18 percent of the population.

Mental ailment is on the rise, according to the World Health Organization. Although said numbers are alarming, what is more significant is that many Americans who are depressed and show signs of other mental health problems remain untreated.

The National Business Group on Health notes that mental health issues cost employers $100 billion a year due to lost days of work. Despite the huge amount of money lost due to mental illness, many HR executives have avoided the issue for years. The good news is, a growing number of professionals from the HR industry now know that early detection followed by proper treatment can save their respective companies millions of dollars annually.

Empathy and Early Detection

Empathy plays an important role in HR, especially when talking to an employee who has a mental condition. Performance analysis is not just about the numbers anymore because HR managers need to address health issues too. Asking how you can help an employee is a good start, according to experts and providing a means to talk about their problems will make things a lot better for everyone in the workplace.

The stigma that accompanies mental illness is still there. People with bipolar disorder, for example, are often treated differently in the workplace once their co-workers find out about the condition. Those with schizophrenia have experienced this at work, too. Stigma does not help because it makes people forget that there are options to effectively manage schizophrenia symptomsand that therapy for other mental ailments also exists.

If HR execs arm themselves with facts without sacrificing empathy, employees will be better off.

It’s not just about lost work days though, it is also about caring for your workforce and pointing them in the right direction when needed.

Even if most HR practitioners are equipped with the knowledge to deal with employees who have mental ailments, the stigma of mental illness still remains as a major obstacle for people who have some type of mental health condition. The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health notes that many employees hesitate to reveal their mental health conditions for fear that their office colleagues will no longer treat them the same way. This gets in the way of detection and proper treatment, according to experts.

The number of companies that are proactively addressing mental health issues in the workplace is growing. Many American companies now see the value of early detection and helping their employees deal with their problems.

Managers are now trained in recognizing symptoms such as increased sick leaves, mood swings, personality changes, decreased productivity, and unexplained silence or lack of communication. They are now also trained to raise questions regarding stress, anxiety, or depression when talking to employees.

Helpful questions for managers to ask

For managers to ensure that they are taking steps to learn more about the well-being of their employees, these questions might help:

  • You’re not your usual self, is there anything we can do to help?

  • Please remember that it is alright to ask for help.

  • How can I help you do your job?

  • Do you want to talk about it?

  • It’s difficult for me to understand what you are going through right now but I can see that you’re in distress.

  • Is everything okay?


Chrissy Fields overcame her own mental health issues to get through college and help others with their own issues. Now she spends her time with her young family and writing articles to raise awareness.

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

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