Coping with a distressed employee can be a difficult and upsetting situation. With 1 in 5 people suffering from a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime, it’s important to know how to react if you spot an employee in a mental health crisis. While triggers will differ from person to person, changes in circumstances like the death of a loved one, divorce or stress at home or work can trigger a mental health crisis. As an HR professional it’s important to know the signs.

‘A situation in which a person’s actions feelings and behaviours can lead to them hurting themselves or others, putting them at risk of being unable to care for themselves or function in the community’, is what is often defined as a mental health crisis. Key signs to pay attention to include  social withdrawal, struggling with work, threats to others, and mentions of suicide.

Here are our the crucial do’s and don’ts of managing a mental health crisis in in the workplace:


Stay calm.

Ask the person what would help them.

Listen compassionately.

If the employee is not in immediate risk or acting violently to others, then it is important to approach the situation with kindness and compassion. Ask how long they’ve been feeling that way and if they had any intrusive thoughts about causing harm to themselves. Although this conversation can be difficult, lending an ear can help calm the situation and will guide you on what to do next.

Take threats and warnings seriously.

If an employee is having or threatening to act on suicidal thoughts, it’s important to get emergency help. Phone 999 and ask for a mental health specialised team. If you feel that the employee is acting violently, or putting themselves and others at immediate risk, remove yourself and others from the situation to keep yourself and your team safe. Call 999 as soon as possible and detail the employee’s behaviour.

Encourage the employee to seek out professional help.

Offer support to the employee by giving mental health resources such as the Samaritans suicide helpline and recommend making an appointment with their GP or mental health team. More information regarding mental health support can be accessed here 


Agree to keep information that suggests the employee could be in danger to
themselves or others a secret.

Ignore or avoid the situation.

Acting on the situation as soon as you notice it prevents the situation from escalating and worsening. Ignoring a mental health crisis could lead to an employee harming themselves or others so it’s critical to act fast.

Get angry or blame them.

It’s important to remember that mental health problems are out of the person’s control and not their fault. The way a person behaves during a crisis is not an accurate representation of themselves and doesn’t define who they are.

Physically involve yourself with a violent individual.

If you believe your employee to be at physical danger to others, don’t physically try and stop the employee as this could escalate the situation and put yourself in danger. Instead remove yourself and others from the situation, giving the employee space and call for emergency help.

Invalidate the employee.

Saying phrases like ‘Have you tried taking a warm bath?’ or ‘Just be positive’ may seem helpful but, may do more harm than good. Phrases like this give the impression that mental health problems are easily fixed rather than serious conditions that require professional support. Instead, phrases which validate the struggles of the employee such as ‘That sounds so difficult’ and ‘I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this’ show that you are listening and care. The best way to be prepared for a mental health crisis is to have an action plan in place. By signing up to our monthly newsletter you will automatically receive a free workplace wellbeing action plan resource that you can provide to your employees. To find out more email [email protected]

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