Let's Open Up About Mental Health

9th September is RUOK Day. The RUOK charity’s message is clear: simply asking someone, “Are you OK?” could change a life.

Written by Mind Tools for Business
Published 07 September 2021
Let's Open Up About Mental Health

Around the world, poor mental health affects people and businesses. In the U.S., 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year. [1] And in the U.K, employees’ poor mental health costs firms up to £45bn a year. [2] 

It’s RUOK’s mission to connect and protect those struggling with their mental health. In Australia, eight people take their own lives every day. [3] 

So, let’s look at ways to help your people open up about their mental health. 

Spotting the signs 

Do you suspect someone may be struggling with their mental health? There are signs that you and your people can look out for. Maybe the person is not sounding or acting like themselves. They may: 

  • Have taken frequent sick days.
  • ​Show signs of stress. 
  • Lack their usual motivation or energy levels. 

  • Be working long hours and seem unable to switch off. 

These signs could be down to any number of reasons. But it’s important to talk to someone if you’re concerned about them. There are life events which can impact someone’s mental health, such as breaking up with a partner, losing a loved one, or having a health scare. Equally, mental distress might occur with no discernible trigger. 

How to start a conversation about mental health 

If you sense a colleague is struggling, RUOK recommends picking your moment – and somewhere private and comfortable to chat. 

For example, the person might be more willing to open up if you’re walking, travelling or exercising side-by-side. Rather than face-to-face talks that may feel like an interrogation.  

But experts recommend not to get hung up on finding the perfect time. [4] Simply showing someone who’s struggling that you care can be incredibly powerful. So much so, 72% of people say it makes them feel better about their situation. [5] To start a conversion: 

  • Let the person know you’ve noticed a change. For example, “You’ve seemed a bit tired recently, are you okay?”
  • ​If they respond with “Yeah, I’m fine”, you can ask again with, “You sure?” But if they’re not ready to talk, respect their boundaries and don’t pressure them.  
  • Instead, let them know you’re there for them if and when they feel the need to talk. After reflecting, they might open up the next time you ask.  

If you can’t have a well-being conversation in-person, you can ask someone how they’re doing by direct message, text or email. Some people may find it easier to open up online.  

Tips for having a meaningful conversation  

If your colleague does open up to you: 

  • Show you’re listening by repeating back what they say and asking if you've understood them. 

  • Nudge the conversation gently and respectfully with open-ended questions like, “Have you felt this way for a while?”
  • ​Use positive body language such as nodding your head as you listen to them. 

It’s important not to: 

  • try to give a diagnosis 

  • turn the conversation to your own experiences
  • ​offer up solutions 

It may be your colleague becomes anxious, sad or angry as they speak to you. If they do, manage your own emotions, offer reassurance, and be there for them when they’re ready to go on. 

Closing a mental health conversation  

If the conversation doesn’t come to a natural end, say something like, “It’s been good to talk to you, we’ve covered a lot today.”  

RUOK also recommends you help them think about one thing to “lighten the load.” That could be talking to a family member, a friend, or their doctor. Or pointing them to any mental health resources your workplace provides. If you’re concerned about the person's immediate welfare then encourage or support them to seek professional help. 

Checking in after a chat 

Checking in with someone can be as simple as asking, “How are you doing today?” They might need to talk things out some more, be listened to, and process events before they’re ready to take the next step – whatever that is. To be there for them, you could: 

  • Go for a regular coffee and chat. 

  • Do sports or social activities together.  

  • Arrange group catch-ups to help them connect with others. [6] 

Resources to help 

When having mental health conversations, it helps to have resources you can point people to when they’re ready. 

  • The R U OK website has useful resources to support discussions on mental health.  

  • Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index helps identify what your company’s doing well – and gaps in its approach to mental health support.
  • ​Mind Tools offers well-being tips including this article on easing financial stress

Ahead of  RUOK Day, why not share this article with your team and start to open up about mental health. And if any of these signs look familiar, follow our tips and ask how someone is doing today. It might make a world of difference to them. 

And if you're feeling low, anxious, burned out or otherwise concerned about your own mental health, don't wait to be asked how you are - be sure to get support right away. 


[1] NAMI, Mental Health By the Numbers [online] Available here. [Accessed 25 August, 2021].  

[2]  Deloitte (2021). Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment [online]. Available here. [Accessed 25 August, 2021].  

[3] What RU OK is About. [online] Available here. [Accessed 25 August, 2021]. 

[4] Lauren from Time to Change, 5 ways to start a conversation about mental health [online]. Available here. [Accessed 25 August, 2021].  

[5] [6] R U OK website. Tips to help you talk to them about how they’re really going [online] Available here. [Accessed 25 August, 2021]. 

About the author

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business brings accessible, on-demand performance tools and resources focused on leadership, management and personal effectiveness that empower colleagues to perform in today’s progressive workplaces. Helping them build happy and successful careers and to contribute positively to the success of organizations, the world over. At Mind Tools for Business, empowering people to thrive at work has been our passion for 25 years.

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