R U OK? Starting a Conversation in the Workplace

Mental health in the workplace is a hot-button issue these days; more and more employers in the Education and Social Work sectors are becoming aware of the impact it can have, while candidates entering the market are looking for work environments that understand their needs.

Helping our peers to overcome or manage poor mental health isn’t easy, but often, the best place to begin is to start a conversation. So, in honour of the upcoming R U OK Day on 12 September 2019, a day dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention in Australia, here are some key ways to initiate a dialogue and take steps towards a happier and healthier work place.

Ask and Listen

Starting a conversation about mental health can be tough for anyone. When someone is showing signs of distress, it’s sometimes tricky to determine exactly where to start – especially if you don’t know them very well.

The truth is, beginning the dialogue comes down to three simple words: are you okay? Before you approach the subject, ensure that you have plenty of time to talk as long as the person needs to, that you’re in the right headspace to handle the conversation and that you’re in a private and comfortable setting.

Explain that you noticed they seemed a bit down or that something had changed in their attitude, and remember to be kind and non-judgmental, as this will make it easier for the other person to open up if they want to. Let them know that you’re here to support them – and if they confide in you, be receptive and use active listening to show that you care. For some people, just having the chance to talk can make a world of difference.

Encourage Action

While talking it out can be great for some, others may need to take action to create positive changes in their situation. This action isn’t always obvious to the person in need, but you can help by providing gentle encouragement and a new perspective.

Another great way to encourage action is to connect them with local mental health support and suicide prevention services, such as:

While the fact that you have started a dialogue with the person in need is crucial, so is urging them to take continued action towards a brighter future. It may be a bumpy ride at times, but your support can mean the world to someone who is struggling.

Check In

When the crisis situation has passed, it’s important to remember that mental health issues don’t resolve themselves overnight. Dealing with poor mental health can be a long and winding road – with some individuals able to recover quickly and move on, while others needing to continuously manage their symptoms.

Checking in from time to time can really show someone that you truly do care about their progress and wellbeing. Even little gestures such as catching up on recent events in their life or grabbing a coffee are excellent ways to demonstrate your support.


Taking a stand to support your friends, colleagues or employees is a noble and valuable act – and one that can change a life for good. To learn more about R U OK Day 2019 and how it empowers us to start that lifesaving conversation in the workplace, click here.

Leave a Reply