Often people feel a little awkward asking someone if they are OK, when they’re worried about them. One reason could be that they don’t want to interfere, but when it comes to mental health, we must ask, so people can get the help they need. Another reason, and it seems to be very common, is that we may not know what to say.  After all, we want to get it right and not make things worse!

Some Things To Keep In Mind

Use ‘I’ Statements

It’s a good idea to start with an ‘I’ statement. By saying ‘I’ve noticed’, or ‘I’m worried’, you are not making any statements directed towards the person. It is less likely to come across as blame or attack, and the person is less likely to be defensive.

Talk About Something You Know For Sure

Make sure that what you have noticed or the reason you are worried, is something that you have seen directly. You DO NOT want to involve someone else by saying ‘so and so told me that you did x’. That can just make the person feel worse or even become paranoid. If you haven’t seen anything directly yourself, it’s a good idea to make sure you have some opportunities to observe how the person is before you approach them.

Keep It Real

You don’t need to sound like a psychologist. It’s annoying. Keep the language casual. This is not the time for jargon and technical language like ‘I’ve noticed you seem to have decreased appetite and lack motivation lately’. Instead you might say something simple and real like ‘I’ve noticed you haven’t really been eating much and seem a bit flat’.

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Get The Person Talking

So once you’ve led in with what you’ve noticed, you can follow it up by a general question to get the person talking. You can start with something like  ‘Are you ok?’, ‘is everything ok?’,  or ‘ is there anything I can do to help?’. Or just let them know that you wanted to see if they wanted to talk.

Don’t Give Up Too Quickly

Of course, they may say ‘no no, everything’s fine’. That’s ok. You could gently ask a few more questions to see if they will open up. Like ‘are you sure?’, because you really haven’t seemed yourself lately’.  But if they continue to say there’s nothing wrong, or they don’t want to talk about it, then that’s ok.

Many times though, the person will tell you a little bit of what is happening for them. And you want to make sure to give them plenty of time to let them talk, before you move on to the next step.

So again, questions are best.  You can ask things like ‘have you seen anyone about this, or done anything to get some help with it?’. It is quiet possible that they are already getting some professional help.

Or you can ask them ‘what do you think we could do to get some advice with this?’. Notice the ‘we’ language, helps the person to feel like they are not all on their own with this. You’re in it together.

Or you can ask ‘who or what has been helpful in the past?’ When the person identifies what they think will be useful, they are much more likely to follow through and actually seek help, than if you told them where to go.

Keep The Door Open

Just let them know that if there ever was anything, or if they did want to talk, that you’re available, or that there are other places they can go too, like a counselling service or a helpline.

Take Care Of Yourself Too

Remember you are human too. Make sure you are safe, both physically and emotionally, and make sure to keep your resilience in check. Many organisations are calling us in to deliver resilience courses to their workforces because they have been proven to build resilience and increase protective factors.

We teach the above mental health communication skills and more in our Mental Health Essentials course. If you’d like to run one in your workplace or community, please contact us at

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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