What to do when an employee discloses a mental health problem

Artaud, aged 30, Australia

"Well, you know, mental illness you need, you know, I need to take days.

For many employees, the decision about whether to disclose a mental health problem at work is a difficult one to make. As a supervisor, responding with empathy, understanding and a lack of judgement can play a key role in helping the person to stay at work or return to work successfully if they do take time off.

DOs and DON'Ts

Do

  • respect the confidentiality of an employee who discloses the fact that they have a mental health problem, unless there is an immediate danger to the person or to others in withholding that information
  • agree with the employee who else, if anyone, might need to know, and what information they need to be provided with
  • make sure you let the person know who else they can talk to about their mental health problems (e.g. a human resources professional, occupational health provider, employee assistance program (EAP) or trade union representative)
  • try and encourage the person to obtain treatment. Where practicable, offer employees the support of occupational health advisers or counsellors. The costs of mental health treatment may be offset by gains made in reduced absenteeism and improved productivity at work.
  • support an employee with a mental health problem to stay in work and prevent long-term sickness absence
  • provide information to employees with a mental health problem on taking sick leave due to a mental health problem or returning to work after a mental health problem. This should include information on the positive role of work in recovery from a mental health problem. If you don't have this information to hand, let the employee know you will find out and get back to them when you do.

Don't

  • assume that an employee diagnosed with a mental health problem needs to take leave to recover

Find out more about dealing with employees who are distressed.

Useful links

MIND UK's Guide for managers