Ask an Hr Pro

Ask an HR Pro: How Can I Help an Employee Struggling with Mental Health?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Taking that into consideration, there’s a chance that someone you work with or one of your employees is struggling with their mental health. Poor mental health can have serious side effects for someone, including negatively impacting their work or relationships with other people in the office, so knowing how to help employee mental health can go a long way towards getting them back on track.

But how do you broach the subject if the employee doesn’t bring it to your attention first? May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in this month’s Ask an HR Pro, we asked Lisa Shuster, Chief People Officer at iHire, what to do if you think an employee is struggling with their mental health.


Sad employee being comforted


Supporting Employee Mental Health

Shuster laid out a few steps for how to help employee mental health. Your first goal should be to open up a dialogue with the employee. It’s important to make them feel psychologically safe when talking with you, so be sure they understand you’re only asking out of concern for their wellbeing, not because they’re in trouble.

“To start, let the employee know that you’ve noticed a change that’s worrying you – whether it’s in their behavior, appearance, output, or something else – and you’re wondering if everything is okay,” Shuster said.

Hopefully, this will be enough for the employee to let you know what they are dealing with and give you opportunities to address their wellbeing. During these initial conversations you should do your best to remain understanding and empathetic.

At the same time, though, if the employee does confide in you that they are struggling with their mental health, it’s not your job to try and treat them. This conundrum may leave you wondering how to help your employee’s mental health. The answer is to point them in the direction of resources your company provides.

“It is not the role of a manager to diagnose or treat, but to connect the employee with resources, such as an employee assistance program that has access to mental health counseling,” Shuster continued. “Your role is not that of a clinician, but to provide a supportive environment. It’s important to be careful here, since generally managers can’t ask employees about health conditions, physical or mental.”


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Further Steps for Employees Struggling with Mental Health

In some cases, those resources alone may not be enough support for your employee. Psychological issues are complex and occasionally require extra assistance.

“It’s important to recognize that mental health issues could qualify an employee for leave or workplace supports or accommodation,” Shuster said. “So, you should bring your HR partner into the discussion to provide the needed support.”

Remember to remain open and supportive throughout the process, as the employee may have concerns or worries about speaking with HR. Ultimately everyone is on the same side, but transparency is always important, and reassuring them that everyone wants the employee to succeed is never a bad thing.

Finally, Shuster recommended that you take a proactive approach to the psychological welfare of your employees:

“Promote the wellbeing of all your employees – what is in place to proactively address mental health in the workplace and destigmatize mental health issues?”

If you’re unsure where to begin, Shuster provided these examples to get you started:

  • Get feedback through surveys or 1-on-1s
  • Focus on mental health awareness and training for management
  • Offer “mental health days” in addition to regular sick days
  • Provide memberships to mindfulness programs or apps
  • Create a meditation room or quiet space for employees
  • Ensure mental health options are included in your health insurance plan


For more answers to your HR questions, head to our Employer Resource Center.

by: Doug Atkinson
April 28, 2022