Supporting colleagues with mental illness

Thursday, 22 March 2018

1 in 5 employees is likely to be experiencing a mental health condition at any given time. We spend many hours every week alongside our coworkers, which puts us in a good position to notice changes in their mood or behaviour.

Working alongside a colleague experiencing mental illness may raise questions like:

  • How should I act around them?
  • What should I talk about?
  • Are there any topics to avoid?
  • Should I treat them differently?

Knowing how we can help our colleagues is an important step towards more mentally healthy workplaces.

Be sensitive

It may be challenging for individuals to discuss their situation or difficulties. Be sensitive to changes which you may notice within the workplace and ask your colleague if they have noticed any changes in themselves.


Good communication is central to effectively assisting colleagues who may be experiencing mental illness. If a colleague wishes to confide in you about their mental illness or symptoms it is important to:

  • Choose the right time and place to approach the issue
  • Be present, listen, and be non-judgemental
  • Acknowledge what the person is sharing
  • Give the person any information you have on available resources.

Be respectful

Remember that having a mental health problem is only one part of the individual. Do not define your colleague by this alone.

  • Be empathetic
  • Be compassionate
  • Use body language which reflects you care
  • Be relaxed and open
  • Encourage your colleague to seek help (through counselling, self-help or by discussing with friends/family)
  • Give a sense of hope and future.

If you are concerned about a colleague, approach them and start a conversation. Checking in with someone often gives them the confidence they need to seek support.

Heads Up provide practical resources to support colleagues, managers, and organisations to build more mentally healthy workplaces.