How to have a conversation

November 5, 2017

It is very important to not sound negative or judgmental. You want to approach the member with openness and genuine caring, to find out how they are doing, and if you can help. Don’t make assumptions about how they are feeling or what they will find helpful.

 Here are 5 steps (adapted from CUPE & the Canadian Mental Health Association) to having a conversation about mental health with a member. Of course, in the real world conversations don’t always follow clearly outlined steps, but this is a helpful guide.

1. Describe what you’ve noticed – “what’s causing you concern?” – in a factual, neutral, non-judgmental way.
Use phrases like “I’ve noticed” or “It seems like” or “I was wondering”. 

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been having lunch alone more lately.”
“It seems like you’ve been really quiet lately.”
“I was wondering if you have too much work to handle right now.”

2. The next step is to listen. 
Be empathetic, and encourage the person to tell you more, if they want to. 

“Can you tell me more about that?”
“I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with that.”

3. The third step is to talk a bit about the importance of addressing what’s going on.
If things continue, there may be negative consequences, and that’s something that everyone wants to avoid.

“I’m worried about all the stress you’re dealing with.”
“I’m worried that your manager might discipline you about coming in late.”

4. Listen to what the member is saying, and talk about it a bit more.
See if there is anything more going on than what you’ve noticed.

“Is there something causing you a lot of stress?”
“Do you know why you’re having a hard time with…?”

5. Finally, look into possible options together.
These could include finding community resources, suggesting other options like seeing their doctor or talking to the employer when appropriate.

“I wonder if your doctor could help.”
“I know of a support group that might be helpful. Want me to give you the contact information?”
“I don’t know if the manager understands what’s going on. Would you like me to go with you to talk to her?”

It may take several conversations or several attempts to have a conversation before a member shares anything with you. Keep in mind, for someone struggling with mental health issues, they genuinely may not be aware that they may have a mental health issue or a mental illness. They also may be quite frightened about what is happening to them and may be afraid to share what they are experiencing. It is important that you don’t make specific assumptions about their health, but encourage them to share what they can with you and work with them to find them some support for what they are facing.

This process may be frustrating for you, but be patient and keep trying – this member needs your help.