What to do if an employee has a mental health issue

For Mental Health Awareness Week we’re looking at some handy tips that employers might use to manage an employee with a mental health condition.

How can you identify if someone is struggling with their mental health?

Common signs that someone is struggling with a mental health issue can include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory and/or confusion
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Crying and/or appearing to be overly sensitive
  • Less able to cope
  • Mood changes – perhaps angry, irritable or moody.

In addition, you might notice some more specific signs that could help you determine a particular condition that the person might be struggling with.

For example, a loss of confidence, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest in food, or unkempt appearance could indicate that someone is struggling with depression.

Whereas repetitive compulsive behaviour, excessive fear or worry, distress in social situations or complaints of chest pain or shortness of breath could indicate anxiety.

You’re not expected to be able to diagnose a condition –this is a matter for your employee and their GP to explore – but you do need to be aware of when someone may be unwell, so that you can start a conversation and take appropriate steps to help them.

What can you say or ask when talking to someone about mental health?

If you believe that someone is struggling, don’t wait for them to raise it. A recent survey by the CIPD found that 43% of employees say that they wouldn’t feel able to tell their manager that they were struggling with their mental health.

Try to find somewhere quiet to have a chat, and start by describing what you’ve observed – as neutrally as possible, without making any assumptions or judgments.

Ask the employee to help you understand what is going on for them, or how they’re feeling.

For example: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been struggling to concentrate and appear to be a bit anxious. I’d like to see if I can get a better understanding of how things are for you, and how I might be able to support you. Can we talk about how you’re feeling?”

What practical steps can you take to help?

Whether you raise the issue or an employee does – perhaps with a diagnosis from their doctor – one option might be that you create a joint “Wellness Action Plan” that identifies:

  • What the employee can do to help them stay mentally healthy at work?
  • What their manager can do to support them?
  • What might trigger poor mental health for them at work?
  • How can these triggers be addressed?
  • Are there any signs that you should look out for so that you can step in and offer support?
  • If you see these signs, what should you do to help?
  • Who can you contact if you’re worried about them – a parent, spouse, friend?

Another option is to make adjustments to the employee’s hours, duties or workload to help them manage.

Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where a mental health condition amounts to a disability, or could pose a risk to health and safety.

For example, if someone is depressed and struggling with fatigue, they may benefit from a later start in the morning or a day off in the week.

For example, if someone is anxious and struggling with worry, they may need help prioritising their workload and to have their workload reduced in the short or longer term.

You should always speak to the employee about the adjustments you are considering, and seek their agreement to the change.

As always, if you’re facing a situation and need some advice and support, please get in touch – our office number is 01484 680098 or you can contact us via the website

For more information about how to identify and manage stress at work, please see our November blog post