How to have an authentic conversation on mental health

Meaningful conversations at work can help avoid potential incidences of suicide

How to have an authentic conversation on mental health

The majority of adults spend around one third of their waking hours at work.

Consequently, companies can play a pivotal role in providing key health information, according to Marcela Slepica, clinical director at AccessEAP.

Slepica said it’s also the role of the employer to intervene if an employee is struggling with mental health or if they are having suicidal thoughts.

“Most people who die by suicide show warning signs and managers, especially are in a unique position to identify team members who are struggling, so knowing what to look out for and where to find help is crucial,” said Slepica.

“While managers may feel overwhelmed by the perceived responsibility, it is important to remember that there is professional help available.”

Slepica comments come as suicide remains a prominent concern for Australians, taking over 2,8001 lives per year and being the leading cause of death among 15-44 year olds, according to the ABS.

In light of the recent R U OK Day, workplace mental health experts are advising workplaces to talk in meaningful conversations to try and identify and help avoid potential incidences of suicide.

AccessEAP offers the following tips on how to have a conversation with an employee about mental health:

Know your team
Ensure that you maintain regular contact with your team and get to know your employees. Greet them, have interactions with them. This helps develop important connections but you will then also be in a position to notice if there are any changes in their behaviour, for example, withdrawal, irritability, unexplained absences or a drop in performance at work.

Such changes may be indicators that the employee is going through some emotional difficulty and finding it hard to manage.

Have a conversation if you are concerned
A simple conversation will clarify your concerns with the employee and may be a first step to helping them find support. Make sure the conversation occurs in a discrete and private place. Be clear that you are concerned. Give specific examples. Ask “Are you okay?”, “Is something concerning you?”, “Do you want to talk about it?”, “Can I do anything to help?”

Listen to what the person is saying without interrupting. At the end, summarise what you have heard to check that your understanding is correct. Do not make judgements or assumptions about what they have said.

If you’re unsure about any comments they have made, clarify with an open question that allows the person to talk in more detail about their issue, rather than providing a simple yes or no.

Explore options
The employee may indicate that there are issues at work that could be helped by making some changes at work. In that case, you may wish to explore specific solutions. Do not go into problem-solving about personal issues.

Remember you are their manager and not their counsellor. Offer empathy, but at the same time, know when to stop and offer professional help.

Know when to escalate
If an employee makes any reference to suicide or self-harm, ask them directly “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” Unless the answer is a direct and clear “No”, immediately escalate to an appropriate person. Your options may include:

  • A Manager/HR
  • An existing support person, for example, their GP or family member
  • EAP Manager Support Hotline
  • Emergency department for assessment or the police


Recent articles & video

HR sector primed for pay rises as job demand outstrips supply

Fair Work ruling on Deliveroo case poses questions for gig economy

Back to office workers show super low morale

Fun Friday: Trending career hashtags on TikTok

Most Read Articles

Australian HR Awards 2021: HRD reveals this year’s excellence awardees

Facebook gives staff option to go fully remote

Can employees be ‘dismissed’ without being fired?