How do you support a team member with mental health issues?

Mental Health issues are responsible for 91 million working days lost in the UK, at a cost of about £30 billion a year. Find out what you can do to help.

How do you support a team member with mental health issues?

Guest blog

Practical tips for managers. Three things you can do to support your colleague.

Stress, anxiety and depression alone result in millions of lost working days each year. Paula Power explains what to look for, how to help and where you can find further resources.   

I'm a manager: where do I start?

When you manage people, it can feel frustrating if you do not know what to do to support someone with a mental illness. This is especially true in the current climate, when resources are stretched and there may be limited support in your organisation.  It’s worth remembering that for most people, recovery is both likely and possible. With the right help and the right tools you can help to save the life of the person you manage. 

Mental illness costs the UK £105.2 billion per year, every year.  75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all. 

As a licenced provider of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England training and facilitation, I know that with the right tools and training every manager can learn to break down some of the barriers around mental health and reduce the stigma of mental health issues. You can also increase your confidence to step in and provide the right kind of support to your team member.

Your role as a manager is to look out and see who is struggling with change at home or at work.  Both positive and negative changes can trigger mental health issues. 

Step 1: Look for changes

Knowing and recognising signs and symptoms is the first positive step forward. It helps the individual move towards recovery and wellbeing. It also helps your organisation reduce the financial and practical impact of sickness due to mental health problems.  Here are a few things to look out for.

  • Is your team member taking on too much work?
  • Is an employee who is usually punctual now arriving late?
  • Are they forgetting things too much, or making more mistakes than usual?
  • Is there an increased level of absence or sickness?
  • Are there negative changes to they way they work with or socialise with colleagues?

If you think your team member may be showing any of these signs, then talk to them. You can have a conversation to see how they are feeling. There are a number of physical and emotional signals which can indicate there are problems. Are they experiencing any of these symptoms? 

Physical signs

Emotional signs

One of these things on its own isn’t necessarily a problem. If your team member has a combination of physical and emotional signs, then there may be a problem. Look out for: 

Headaches               Changes in weight

Sleep problems           Rashes or eczema

Lack of care in personal appearance. 

Is your team member behaving differently? Are you seeing new behaviour such as: 

Irritability      Tearfulness      Not participating       

Withdrawing     Loss of humour

Increased consumption of cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, sedatives

More likely to be aggressive or argumentative 

Step 2: Open the way for them to talk

Your job is support - you do not solve the problem for them

Some of the greatest results for recovery come from listening non- judgementally.

An incredible 65% of all our communication is non-verbal. If someone in front of you needs support and you are on your phone or distracted, it’s unlikely they will disclose anything, or come to you for help again. Do think about some of the key approaches to listening.  

Do be mindful of your attitude and accept them as they are.

Do be genuine and empathetic.

Do listen without interrupting.

Do check you understand – summarise their facts and feelings to check you have it right.

Do keep an open body posture, sit down at an angle from them and give them time to talk.

Don’t make any moral judgements.

Don’t stare or look away too much, keep eye contact comfortable.

Don’t try to solve it for them, ‘fix it’, share your own experience or give them helpful suggestions.

Don’t be afraid of silence. Silence is a way of listening and can show a deep care for another person.

Step 3: Seek further help

It’s likely your HR team will have a policy in place to help you and your team member. Check it out and guide your colleague to seek out support internally. You can ask if they have spoken to their own doctor and suggest they do that. There are resources you can access quickly, free of charge. MHFA England has a useful pack of information for line managers. Training in Mental Health first aid is available in half day and two day courses. Having a few people at work trained this way can be a positive sign to employees that the organisation is supportive and wants to help get things right.  This short video will help you see the benefits from an organisational perspective.

Paula Power 

knows what it’s like to work in stress filled teams. When you are one of 20 women in the first ever relay team to reach the geographic North Pole, you quickly understand how important it is for team members to support one another. Paula runs My White Dog and has been training and facilitating both adults and young people in mental health for many years. “It can be difficult to know what to do when you think someone has a problem. Having the basic skills and confidence to spot the signs and provide support until professional help can be used, is vital for so many people. Just about everyone has problems sometimes, so it’s a good idea for all of us to know what to do.”


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