Tips for Providing Mental Health Support to Colleagues and Friends

By: Rebecca Chen

Updated | Sep 13, 2019

Colleagues_Talk Mental Health

When someone close to us, whether it’s a family member, friend, or colleague, is struggling with their mental health, our instinct is to help. With the stigma surrounding mental illness, sometimes it can be easier to brush off the warning signs, pretend everything is normal, and continue to treat the individual as we always have.

But the truth is that when people are struggling in silence, they often want help — both in their personal life and at work. In fact, research shows that 43% of employees would like to receive more support for their mental health from senior management and human resources.

Managers are also aware of the toll work can have on their teams, and want to play an active role in supporting them. A study found that 80% of managers believe that it is part of their job to intervene when an employee shows signs of depression.

Perhaps the reason we find it difficult to offer support is not our unwillingness to help, but rather not knowing what to do or say. It’s quite simple to offer a lozenge or warm cup of tea to someone suffering from a cough, but what is the right thing to do for someone struggling with anxiety or depression? Currently, it is not part of everyday leadership training but it is both needed and wanted. In fact, 63% of managers would like to receive better training to deal with situations involving their employees’ mental health.

In today’s blog post, Starling Minds’ Community Members share how they have helped others who’ve struggled with their mental health, as well as interactions that have helped them when they were struggling.

1) Just Listen

The most common advice that members gave was to simply listen. Listen to your family member, friend, or colleague talk about their day, how they’re feeling, or whatever it is they want to share. Not only is it important to listen, but to listen with empathy, understanding, compassion, and without judgement.

“It’s also helpful to remind them that whatever they say and whatever you discuss will remain confidential and between the two of you. Another key thing to keep in mind is that while it’s good to show empathy, try not to solve the problem as people often just need to be heard.“Listen, don’t try to solve it. Just be there with them.” – Starling Member

“Slow down and listen – let there be silence.” – Starling Member

“Encourage them to talk and be an ear to listen. Knowing that they have a friend to talk to and that whatever they say will go no further is important. Also, reassure them that it’s okay, it’s normal, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.” – Starling Member

2) Spend Quality Time Together

Another way to support someone struggling with their mental health is by spending quality one-on-one time together. A quiet, relaxing, and private setting can provide a good opportunity for them to share what’s on their mind. It doesn’t have to involve anything complicated or take up too much time, it could just be going for a walk, grabbing tea or coffee, or just finding a relaxing place to sit down and chat are good options.

Sometimes, your presence is enough to show support and no conversation is necessary.

“Try to make plans to do something you enjoy together. Carve out time and make it a priority just like going to work.” – Starling Member

“I find just setting aside some time carpooling with a colleague to a conference or meeting opens up this conversation and is the best time to share.” – Starling Member

3) Check-in, Frequently

Due to the stigma around mental illness, it can take people a while to share what they’re truly feeling as opposed to a simple “I’m good, thanks.” Although it can feel uncomfortable to be persistent, Community members suggest that it may be just the right thing to do.

“Be ‘persistently there’ for them. Not nagging them about how they’re doing, but just being available, even if it seems that they have put walls up.”  – Starling Member

“Sending daily texts or calls to let them know you’re thinking of them, even if they don’t respond. It means the world to them, knowing they can reach out to share as much or as little as they want without fear of being judged.” – Starling Member

Additional ways to support those living with a mental health condition:

  • If you can see that someone around you is stressed and overworked, take something off their plate, even if it’s a small task
  • Give positive reinforcement. Let them know that they are valued and appreciated.
  • Guide them to appropriate support systems. Give them numbers for local community mental health support centres and tell them that you will help them contact a mental health professional if they would like.

Do you feel prepared to support someone who is struggling with their mental health? If you’re still feeling a little overwhelmed or uncertain, do not stress! As with any new skill, offering your support may feel awkward at first, but it will be important to let them know that you genuinely care and want to help in any way you can.

“Tell them that their struggle does not change how you view or feel about them. Let them know that you are there to support them, and ask how you can do that.” – Starling Community Member

If your organization has made Starling Minds’ mental health program available to you, log in to check out other suggestions from the Community. Have a mental health story you want to share? Connect with us at

If your organization currently does not offer Starling Minds, fill out this form and we’ll let your company know you’d like them to consider Starling for employee mental health.

Rebecca Chen

Rebecca is Starling Minds' Community Manager. She is passionate about normalizing the discussions around mental health by creating a safe space to bring people together in support of one another.

Ready to get started?