First, a note of caution. Don’t make assumptions about whether or not someone is experiencing a mental health problem - in any situation there could be a wide range of factors at play. However, if mental ill health is suspected or disclosed, it is crucial that line managers facilitate an early conversation about the person’s needs to identify and implement appropriate support or adjustments.
Often employees will not feel confident in speaking up, so a manager making the first move to open up a dialogue can be key. Regular catch-ups are an opportunity to start the conversation, which should always be in a private, confidential setting where the employee feels at ease. Questions should be simple, open and non-judgemental to give the employee opportunity to explain things in their own words.
If there are specific grounds for concern, such as changes to performance or high absence levels, it is important to address these at an early stage. In all cases, people should be treated in the same way as someone with physical health problems – a good starting point is asking how they are.
Handling a mental health disclosure can be viewed with fear by line managers, but it need not be awkward or taxing. Remember that the aim is to create an honest and open dialogue that will lead to a system of support and understanding between managers and employees. Although you may have raised the issue, the person may not feel able to open up to this point. It's helpful to be clear that you are there to support them and, hopefully, they will come back to you at a later date.
If you have given your team member a reasonable opportunity to disclose, and have done what you can to bring to light any health-related causes for the change in performance level, then you may need to think about proceeding down a formal performance management route. In these cases, it is important that you continue to give the employee a chance to disclose; it can be difficult to open up about mental health within the workplace, often because of the stigma that may be attached to it.