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Lets Talk About Mental Health at Work

Blog 50 Taling about mental health

iety – It’s only really in recent history that we have started open dialogue as regards mental health at work.

Safeguarding employees from psychological risk has always come under the responsibility of Health and Safety, but previously emphasis and resources tend to have focused on physical risk. Often viewed through risk assessment results as the higher and most visible risk. And frankly, usually the easier fix.

During my working life I have suffered from workplace stress and anxiety so I know firsthand that it is miserable issue. Racing heartbeat, breathlessness and panic attacks at work due to workload and pressures of a role. Working huge hours, answering emails and phonecalls at any time of the day, evening and at weekends. Working during scheduled leave and cutting short maternity leaves.

No one ever questioned what effect working like this could have on me, or, discouraged my behaviour in any way. Indeed I felt it was considered how I should behave in a senior role.

Mistakes of the Past

When my anxiety issues began, I kept quiet. I feared that negative repercussions may come if shared my issues and I would be considered not up for the job.

I may well have been correct to take this stance as even recent surveys showed that up to 9% of people who disclosed a mental health issue to their employer were demoted, disciplined or even dismissed as a result.

Now thankfully times have moved on and much work is done to raise awareness of workplace mental health. To encourage open communication, reduce stigma and increase understanding.

But how can employees and employers both learn from the mistakes of the past and set themselves on a positive path for the future. One that will benefit everyone ?

Why do we want to Discuss Workplace Mental Health with our Colleagues and Employees ?

During and post pandemic an explosion of surveys, knowledge, information and most importantly – financially quantifiable information, became available to companies as regards poor workplace mental health. This information included:

Anxiety – Latest UK mental health statistics

  • 58% of employees surveyed reported that they are experiencing anxiety
  • Only 9% were seeking mental health treatment

Depression – Latest UK mental health statistics

  • 52% of employees surveyed reported that they are experiencing depression
  • Only an average of 12% were seeking mental health treatment

Stress – Latest UK mental health statistics

  • Over 7% of people in the UK report feeling stressed very single day. The most likely cause is work related stress, often caused specifically by workload
  • Many report that these high levels of stress effect their productivity at work

These disorders cost the global economy in excess of 1 trillion dollars per year !!!

So how do we begin Addressing this ? Firstly, by talking about it

If we noticed physical symptoms on a colleague we wouldn’t hesitate to ask them about. But as employers, Managers and colleagues we can feel uneasy of approaching conversations regarding suspected ill health. We might fear being seen as “nosy”, or overstepping boundaries. Alienating the person from us or even making a situation worse by bringing an issues into the open.

How May we have Spotted Mental Ill Health ?

You may have noticed the person exhibiting symptoms, such as:

  • Avoiding others
  • Blaming others
  • Snapping at others
  • Mood swings and changes
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Smoking or using alcohol more
  • Having panic attacks
  • Exhibiting concentration problems
  • Memory lapses
  • Difficulty in making decisions
Creating the Right Conditions to Chat

Think about when and where you might approach the conversation.

Choose somewhere quiet and perhaps outside of the working environment. Grab a coffee or go for a walk if you can.

If it must be done virtually, on a phone or video call. Be aware that active listening should be demonstrated more here than in person.

Ask Open Questions
  • “How are you today?” – make it in the present rather than general
  • Be specific “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately, how are you feeling ?”
  • Other questions could include, “What support do you have in place ?” “Who can you talk to?
  • Let them know that you are there to listen and help if they wish for that

Do reflect back and clarify If someone says something they say isn’t clear. But don’t put words in their mouth.

Conversations to Avoid

Take care to show empathy rather than sympathy. Try to walk in their shoes.

If you don’t know what to say, just sitting with them will help to let them know that you care.

Don’t challenge, ignore or invalidate to try and minimize the situation in the hope that this will make them feel better, it will not.

Try not to compare to any instances of your own or others that you know. It could show empathy, but it also could turn the conversation into being about you.

Don’t try to find an easy solution. You can’t ‘fix’ their mental health.

But Don’t Worry !

But above all, bear in mind that there are no perfect ways to start a conversation about someone’s mental health. If you are non-judgemental, kind and empathetic you can help to make a big difference.

You are not expected to be an expert, but perhaps let them know of expert resources that could help. These include the UAE toll-free hotline – 800 HOPE (4673) to support people with their mental health. The Ministry of Health and Prevention’s support line (04 519 2519), SEHA’s Estijaba helpline (8001717) and the 24-hour walk in at Al Amal Hospital.


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