A recent survey carried out by Time to Change showed 1 in 4 of us are currently affected by mental health problems, with 9 in 10 saying they have faced negative treatment from others as a result. Too often, mental health problems are still treated as a taboo subject – something not to be talked about, especially at work.

Therefore, it is vital we challenge the stigma that still lies around this issue. Time to Talk Day is the perfect opportunity to do this, whether that means spending part of a meeting busting mental health myths, or just having a chat with a colleague over a cup of tea.

Use these 6 tips to help break the silence around mental health in the workplace:

1. Look out

There is no simple way of knowing if someone has a mental health issue, but whether or not this is the case, they will still need your support. Common signs someone is struggling might include:

  • Being withdrawn
  • Seemingly down or despondent
  • More stressed than usual
  • A change in their personality

48% of people asked said they would not talk to their employer about their mental health, and fear of discrimination and feelings of shame are among the top reasons people give for not telling their colleagues about their mental health problems.

By looking out for the signs and acknowledging them, we can begin to create a more open and inclusive environment, where people feel safe to talk and reach out for help when they need it

2. Take a moment

Waiting for the perfect moment to ask how someone is? On our busy days you could be waiting a lifetime. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about our feelings when we are doing something else. So, pick a comfortable and familiar setting to chat, such as in the canteen or try going for a walk.

It might be easier to talk side-by-side instead of face-to-face. Having something else to do or focus on at the same time can help make difficult conversations easier and relieve the pressure to fill silences.

3. Listen and ask questions

Still not sure if they are ok? Ask again. You may well get a different answer the second time around. Asking again shows you are interested in their wellbeing, rather than just going through the motions. It also gives them time to consider whether they want to share something with you. Be sure to listen and let them lead the discussion at their own pace.

Time to Change offers advice on different ways to ask twice in their blog, 5 ways to ask twice when your mate says I’m fine.

4. Approach the elephant in the room

If you know that someone has experienced mental illness, spoke about it in the past, or maybe took some time off work recently, don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing.

You might be worried it will be embarrassing for them, or that you’re pushing them into revealing something personal, but it’s likely your colleague will be grateful that it’s acknowledged, and this will stop them from feeling isolated. You could ask them, “how are things now?”, or perhaps “you’ve seemed a bit quiet recently, is everything alright? I’m here if you want to talk”.

Small gestures – like making someone a cup of tea, can make them feel part of the team if they are returning to work from some time off.

5. Be social

It’s always good to talk face-to-face, but some people might find it easier to talk about things in different ways. You might want to take 5 minutes to call or email a colleague who you haven’t seen in a while, to ask how they’re doing. The conversation doesn’t have to be all about mental health, it can be as simple as asking how they are and taking time to listen to what they say.

Or perhaps you might want to chat via text, email or WhatsApp. Social media is a brilliant way of keeping in touch with people, but remember, just because we’ve liked a post or shared a funny video, it doesn’t mean we’ve really connected with that person; so make sure you get a conversation going.

6. No quick fix

It’s human nature to want to fix things, however it’s unlikely the person is coming to you to provide them with a solution. You don’t have to have all the answers – just listening can make a big difference. You can show your support by reflecting, something simple like “that sounds really difficult” or “thanks for telling me” can show you appreciate them sharing.

If you are managing someone at work who has experienced a mental health problem, having regular catch-ups can help both parties recognize stress or other signs to watch out for. You might find it helpful to learn a bit more about what they’re going through, which will help you to consider any adjustments you need to make to support them.

If someone is looking for further help, they can talk to their GP, or contact Samaritans for free.  Time to Change also offers information on other places that can provide them with support.

Keeping up at work can be a challenge if you’re affected by a mental health issue, so knowing that someone cares and wants to support you can make a big difference. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health. The only wrong way to talk about mental health, is to not talk about it at all.

Are you experiencing stress in the workplace? See our blog on Five Ways to Improve Your Mental Health at Work.