R U OK? How to talk about mental health with your workmates

Sep 25, 2018

Wondering whether it’s okay to talk about mental health at work? Whether it is you opening up to a colleague or approaching someone else, it can be a tricky conversation. There’s no right or wrong approach but we have some tips to help you ask (or answer!) “Are you OK?”.

We spend a lot of time with our workmates which can put us in a good position to notice changes in someone’s behaviour or mood, which may indicate that they aren’t coping. By checking in with them and asking “Are you OK?”, you could help your workmate open up and show them that you care and are there to help.

How to start the conversation

It can be difficult for anyone to ask for help however small gestures such as reaching out and asking about a colleague’s wellbeing can make a big difference and helps create a more supportive work environment. Many people may worry about harming their working relationship or causing offence. It’s important to remember however, that you may be the only person who’s noticed changes in your colleague’s behaviour or mood and have the courage to reach out to them.

Ahead of approaching your workmate, take some time to plan what you are going to say. Think about whether you are the most appropriate person to have this conversation and a good time and place. Do some research into mental health support services and helplines that you may be able to suggest if the need arises.

When the time comes to talk, remember these three steps.

  1. Ask if they’re OK and whether they want to talk about it. It may be that your colleague shuts down the conversation. Respect their choice but let them know that you are always there if they change their minds.
  2. Listen to what they have to say. Try not to jump in and start offering solutions too early. Often people just need someone to talk to.
  3. Support is the most important thing you can offer and if they refuse, help them explore their options for how they could begin to feel better.

For more tips and conversation starters, check out our Starting a conversation page.

Deciding whether to talk about your own mental health

Making the decision to tell someone about your mental health condition is a very personal one to which there's no right or wrong answer. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

Letting someone know about what you are going through might mean that you are able to work towards a better working arrangement where your mental health is better looked after. But on the flipside, depending on your working environment, you may be concerned that your workmates won’t be understanding.

Use our Pros and cons tool to help you decide what might be best for you.

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