Navigating Difficult Conversations: Managerial Guidelines for Addressing Mental Health Concerns and Suicidal Ideation in the Workplace

Conversations around mental health and suicide are among the most challenging and sensitive discussions that can arise in the workplace.

We asked workplace psychotherapist, Louise Scott from Mind & Mission to provide guidelines to help managers have these difficult discussions effectively.

Louise told us “In the workplace, it is of paramount importance that managers learn to navigating difficult conversations about mental health and suicide. Managers have a responsibility to create a supportive environment where individuals feel safe and supported to talk about difficult issues. Managers can encourage open conversations by being empathetic listeners and having the courage to put the team’s wellbeing first.”

Below is Louise’s advice for managers:


Stay Calm and Composed – Don’t Panic

When a team member brings up the topic of mental health and/or suicide, it’s natural to feel a range of emotions, including shock, concern, and fear. However, it’s essential to remain calm and composed during the conversation.
Take a moment to breathe deeply and ground yourself before responding. Your ability to stay calm can help create a safe and supportive environment for the person in distress.


Give the Gift of Time

One of the most valuable things you can offer someone in crisis is your time and undivided attention. Let the individual know that you’re there to listen for as long as they need and that there’s no rush to find a resolution.

Respect their pace and comfort level, allowing them to open up at their own discretion. Let them guide the conversation and express their thoughts and emotions in their own time.


Listen Actively and Without Judgement

Active listening is key to effectively supporting someone in crisis. Give your full attention to the person speaking, maintaining eye contact and open body language.

Avoid interrupting or offering immediate solutions. Instead, focus on understanding the person’s feelings and experiences without judgment.

Reflect back what you hear to demonstrate that you’re listening and to ensure mutual understanding.


Keep the Focus on Them

Avoid making the conversation about yourself or your experiences. While it’s natural to want to empathise by sharing similar stories, remember that the focus should remain on the person in distress. Validate their feelings and experiences without redirecting the conversation to your own experiences


Never Attempt to “Fix” the Problem

As a manager, you may naturally find you want to “fix” what is wrong for the individual talking with you. However, it’s essential to recognise that you are not a mental health professional, and it is not your role to solve the individual’s problems but to offer support and guidance in accessing appropriate resources.

Avoid making promises or guarantees about outcomes. Instead, offer reassurance that you’re there to help them navigate the challenges they’re facing


Be Comfortable with Silence

Silence can be uncomfortable, but it’s an essential part of effective communication, especially in sensitive conversations like those involving mental health concerns and suicide.

Allow moments of silence for the person to collect their thoughts and emotions. Resist the urge to fill the silence with words, as this can be overwhelming for the individual.


Validate and Empathise

Validate the person’s feelings and experiences, acknowledging their emotions without minimising or dismissing them.

Avoid offering platitudes or clichés, as these can come across as insincere


Encourage Professional Help

While you can offer support as a manager, it’s crucial to encourage (not tell) the individual to seek professional help from a therapist, counsellor, or medical professional.

Provide information about available resources and offer to assist them in accessing these resources if needed.


If you believe the individual is at imminent risk of self-harm or suicide, do not hesitate to contact emergency services immediately. Your priority is their safety and wellbeing, and trained professionals are equipped to provide the necessary support and intervention in crisis situations. Remember, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and seek help promptly if you have concerns about someone’s safety

Navigating conversations about mental health and suicide in the workplace requires compassion, empathy, and active listening. As a manager, your role is to provide support and guidance while respecting the individual’s autonomy and confidentiality. By following these guidelines, you can create a safe and supportive environment for your team members and contribute to a workplace culture that prioritises mental health and wellbeing.

If you’re curious to learn more about this topic or interested in exploring the training opportunities that Mind & Mission provides for managers in this area, feel free to reach out to Louise at She’d be happy to chat with you!