A Guide on How to Respond When an Employee Discloses Their Mental Health Condition
Tips for supervisors on how to handle employees’ self-disclosure, and how to support them thereafter.
The 2016 Singapore Mental Health Study found that 1 in 7 people in Singapore has experienced a mental illness in their lifetime, which is an increase from before1. A survey done with more than 500 organisations revealed that at least 50% of them are hesitant to employ persons with mental health conditions, with the main reason being uncertainty on how to support them2.
Employers can make the workplace more open and inclusive by learning how to respond to employees who disclose their mental health condition, and how to support them thereafter.
Acknowledge, build trust
Acknowledge the effort and courage it took for the employee to share their mental health condition with you as there is always fear of rejection or stigma.
Assure them that support will be provided.
Reassure them that their health information will be kept confidential and only disclosed if necessary, with their consent.
Listen, and explore accommodations
Allow the employee to lead the conversation, and give them time and space to express themselves. As much as possible, keep an open mind when listening and try to convey this through your body language, by giving appropriate eye contact and having an open posture.
Listen to their requests for flexibility or work accommodations, and let them know that you will explore possible arrangements, but make sure not to overpromise. Find out how the employee’s work performance may be affected, and consider how changes can be made based on their specific needs.
Some accommodations may include:
- Flexible hours – planning days off to break up the work week, adjustments to start/finish time
- Time off for medical appointments
- Having a workspace with minimal distractions, and quiet rooms to provide a ‘safe space’ during breaks
- Increased frequency of supervision or support e.g., to prioritise workload, to provide encouragement or constructive feedback, to debrief after a difficult encounter or task, to mediate between colleagues
Arrange regular check-ins, recognise early signs of stress
Scheduling regular check-ins with the employee to find out how they are coping at work can help normalise and encourage conversations about mental health. Doing so builds trust and provides them with a platform to share difficulties faced, allowing for early intervention.
Reviewing and affirming them for their achievements can also help to build self-esteem and confidence.
It is worthwhile to have a conversation with the employee about their symptoms, triggers, early signs of stress, and who to contact in a crisis. It is necessary to note that this is unique to each person, as everyone experiences and manages mental health problems differently.
Some common signs of stress that impact work behaviours include, but are not limited to:
- Behavioural changes – anxiety, agitation or disorganised speech that may be observed when interacting with colleagues
- Cognitive changes – lower productivity levels, decreased ability to concentrate
- Mood changes – appearing tired or sad, withdrawing from activities they previously enjoyed
- Physical changes – decreased appetite, increased smoking or drinking
Refer them to available resources
You may refer the employee to your organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) so that more support is provided for personal or work-related problems that have an impact on work performance and overall well-being.
Alternatively, they can approach community partners or mental health professionals. Supervisors may refer to Mental Health Resource Directory for more information.
This article was contributed by the Institute of Mental Health in conjunction with World Mental Health Day.
1 Institute of Mental Health, 2018. Latest nationwide study shows 1 in 7 people in Singapore has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. Institute of Mental Health. Available at: https://www.imh.com.sg/Newsroom/News-Releases/Documents/SMHS%202016_Media%20Release_FINAL_web%20upload.pdf [Accessed August 29, 2022].
2 National Council of Social Service, 2019. Mental health toolkit for employers. NCSS. Available at: https://www.ncss.gov.sg/press-room/publications/MentalHealthToolkitforEmployers [Accessed August 29, 2022].
Gallo, A., 2021. When Your Employee Discloses a Mental Health Condition. Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2021/02/when-your-employee-discloses-a-mental-health-condition [Accessed September 4, 2022].
Mind, 2022. How to promote well-being and tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems. Mind.org.uk/work. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/4808/how-to-promote-wellbeing-and-tackle-the-causes-of-work-related-mh-problems_walesv2.pdf [Accessed August 29, 2022].
Mind, 2022. How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem. mind.org.uk/work. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/4661/resource4.pdf [Accessed August 29, 2022].