Having the conversation
How to support coworkers or employees

The Five Steps Approach

1. Prepare

  • Are you in the right frame of mind to start this discussion?
  • Do you have access to resources you may need (crisis line numbers, etc)?
  • Do you have some time blocked off?
  • Have you thought about where to have the conversation?

2. Talk about what you see

Mental illness is not invisible, identify any changes to:

  • Physical health
  • Eating habits
  • Personal appearance
  • Sociability
  • Errors or accidents
  • Punctuality
  • Response to new tasks and familiar tasks
  • Working more, unable to take a break

3. Ask if they are okay—in your own words

  • Step back from assumptions
  • Be curious
  • Listen for understanding


Listening for understanding

  • Ask one question at a time
  • Listen for the answers, allow pauses
  • Avoid interrupting
  • Seek clarification
  • Don’t problem solve
  • Take more time to gather information than you normally would
  • Be aware if you are arguing or defending

4. Ask what you can do to help

Reassure them that you are here if they need you. If you are a supervisor, ask what you can do to help support their success at work:

  • Consider small “a” accommodations (everyday changes and supports)
  • Ask what the employee/member is going to do to contribute to their success
  • If appropriate, write next steps down either with the employee or after the meeting


Important: If you get a sense that this is warranted, ask if they are thinking about suicide. Be ready to connect them to resources (crisis line etc).

5. Take a moment for yourself

It’s important to take a moment to thank yourself and acknowledge that

you have approached an important conversation and have started to build

a stronger relationship with another human being.

  • Take a walk
  • Grab a coffee/tea/water
  • Sit in silence for a few minutes