6 Tips for Handling an Employee’s Mental Health Crisis

Here’s how to support and respond to a worker experiencing a mental health crisis.

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6 Tips For Handling an Employee's Mental Health Crisis

Here's what you need to know:

  • Respond calmly and compassionately, and ask the following question: “How can I support you?”
  • Foster a safe environment and internal culture
  • Encourage the use of an EAP to support employees
  • Engage the employee's mentor
  • Know the leave and disability policies and applicable laws

Companies need to put a greater emphasis on mental health. It is no secret that mental health issues can lead to a number of physical illnesses. Even so, many organizations do not take mental health matters nearly as seriously as they do physical health issues.

As an HR manager, you must realize 2 things. The 1st is that you have to anticipate that employees at your company will struggle. The second is that you need to put support systems in place so that when someone does go into crisis mode, you have protocols that will help get them the help they need fast.

Obviously, there are a number of other things you can do to help an employee through a mental health crisis. Regardless of the approach you take, though, it is important to stay compassionate and refrain from judgment. These people are doing the absolute best they can with the capacity they have. Take them where they are at rather than at where you think they should be.

Prioritizing mental health care is especially important in the age of COVID. It has been 2 long years of constant stress, fear, and uncertainty, with few (if any) breaks from the madness.

Here’s the thing: The world’s woes are more than enough to send a person spiraling on their own. Couple that with personal stressors and you have the makings of an exquisitely stressful mental health crisis.

Confused about where to start? Don’t worry! We have put together a list of tips that will help you handle a worker’s mental health crisis.

Being calm is key when handling a mental health crisis

Depending on the severity of the crisis, the employee who is struggling may be emotionally elevated in the workplace. It is imperative that you stay calm in these situations. Respond calmly and compassionately, and ask the following question: “How can I support you?”

It is a powerful question because it skips “Are you okay?” and goes straight to, “How can we help you through this?” It gets to the point and avoids asking a question that doesn’t help much in the moment. Sometimes, asking someone if they are okay can cause more annoyance or distress.

Respond calmly and compassionately, and ask the following question: “How can I support you?”

This may seem cheesy but the key is to support them. Show them that it is OK for them to struggle. Remind them that you are there to help and that it is okay for them to ask for help. And, just as importantly, follow through on your promises to get them the help they need.

Don’t judge or react if a worker has a mental health crisis

This piece of advice piggybacks off the previous tip. It is so important that you avoid reacting to or judging your employee, especially in their time of crisis. They need to know that their world is not falling apart and that they will not be judged, punished, or ridiculed for struggling in this way.

So many people hide these kinds of things from their employers because they are terrified of repercussions or unfair treatment. And honestly, can you really blame them? We live in a culture that constantly dismisses and underestimates mental health issues and punishes people for struggling.

That is why it is vital that you cultivate a safe environment for them to feel. Foster an internal culture that normalizes these issues and rallies behind those who are having a hard time.

When an employee is yelling, screaming, or breaking down, it is difficult not to react. It is a stressful moment for everyone. You want to rush in and comfort them and you want to help them through it. You do not want nearby coworkers to worry or react negatively.

Encourage use of an EAP to support employees

An EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) is an invaluable resource for people who are struggling with personal issues in the workplace. Essentially, an EAP is a workplace intervention program designed to support and empower workers as they navigate mental or emotional issues. EAPs can help employees by covering basic legal assistance, wellness programs, and other services that will help them resolve these problems.

Many employees have no idea what an EAP is, nor do they even know that they have access to 1. Making them aware that this level of support is available to them at all times can be game changing. Make sure that they know this exists and help them through the process if they need it.

Another benefit of EAPs is that many companies make them available for their employees’ immediate family members or anyone living in the same home as the employee. Basically, anyone related to or living in close proximity to one of your employees can access and benefit from these programs. An EAP can have a positive impact on both you and the important people in your life, making it even more valuable.

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Know leave and disability policies for your staff

We cannot overstate the importance of knowing these policies. As an HR manager, part of your job is making sure you know your organization’s leave and disability policies. You need to be able to discuss these rules and policies in workplace conversations.

You do not necessarily need to have every word memorized but you do need to know the general concepts and basic rules by heart. It’s important to know your state’s specific laws, too. More on that below.

Engage the employee’s mentor during a mental health crisis

This is where having an established mentorship program at your organization can really come in handy. Mentors can be enormous assets to both your organization as a whole and to their specific mentees.

An ideal mentor will have perspective and expertise that even you may not possess. They will be able to address the crisis from an angle others would not even know to consider. They will often have suggestions and solutions that can be implemented in the moment.

Most importantly, though, is that they are able to accomplish these things with the level of kindness and understanding that the situation demands.

If they do not have 1, make it your mission to get them 1. Assigning mentors to your employees can make an enormous difference in their both professional development and their overall quality of life.

Know your state laws regarding staff and mental health

Different states have different laws regarding mental health. It is extremely important for you to know these laws and have a clear idea of how these laws could factor into the crisis at hand.

Knowing the law will help you respond professionally and appropriately.

Knowing the law will help you respond professionally and appropriately. It will also help you avoid some significant legal problems. Trust us, this can be a legal minefield if you do not know what you are doing.

Staying up to date on these laws is also an important aspect of your job. These laws are subject to be changed, amended, or scrapped altogether, and you need to keep yourself informed. Anything less just isn’t good enough.

Mental health crises are stressful. Not everyone knows how to handle them, either. But as long as you respond with kindness, calmness, and compassion, you will be on the right track.

Remember: Do not be punitive. Be proactive. The bottom line is this: understanding does not have to be a prerequisite for acceptance. You can accept someone fully and completely without knowing or comprehending why or how they are struggling.

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