Business leaders from around the region heard how managers in particular must be aware of what structures are available to staff and not try to solve or diagnose problems themselves.
The claim was made at a roundtable event organised by Barclays and The Yorkshire Post and comes on the eve of World Mental Health Day.
Attended by some of the region’s leading business and charity bosses, the event heard how attitudes in the workplace were changing rapidly on the issue but that there was still much work to be done.
Rosana Rategh, from the Leeds Mind charity, has spent several years working with people with mental health issues and said that staff having the confidence to seek help often depended on the availability of what is on offer support-wise.
“There is definitely something about admitting it but then worrying what the support is going to be like,” said Ms Rategh.
“So if I admit that I am suffering from mental health problems, am I going to be supported?
“Some of the things we find is that managers struggle with practicalities. As a manager, if someone says they have depression, what do they do? What are the procedures?”
Debbie Mullan, head of corporate banking at Barclays, agreed, saying: “As a manager of people, if someone does have these issues, your first thoughts will be am I here to diagnose or solve the problem, because for you as a leader that is your natural response – to solve a problem.
“You need to learn that you are not there to solve the problem, you can reach out to different people and talk about the tools you have in place to help.”
All attendees agreed that greater preponderance of people speaking out on their own mental health issues had played a massive role in influencing the culture around the condition.
Virgin Money boss Jayne-Anne Gadhia and Lloyds chief executive António Horta-Osório are among high-level executives who have opened up about mental health but the need for more openness on the matter is vital, it was agreed.
Kate Hainsworth, chief executive of the Leeds Community Foundation, said: “Our experience is that people are a lot more likely to speak out.
“Younger people, millennials, are much more prepared to talk about how they feel and to demand the respect to be listened to.”
One important step people agreed was having Mental Health First Aiders in each workplace. Jodie Hill, who founded and runs the law firm Thrive, is currently campaigning to have the law in this area changed.
She said: “You do find that people will often not talk about it if they do not have that open environment. If you have that buy in from the top level then you are more likely to have people who will open up.
“There are people at board level who have suffered but who dare not say anything because they still have that stigma and negative connotations about weakness when it comes to mental health.”
Mr Rategh said that a huge step forward in terms of prevention came from educating younger people more effectively on the subject.
“If we educate young people then they grow up with that knowledge and take it into the workplace but they also have the knowledge to support themselves,” she said.
“At the moment for want of a better expression we are in a reactionary crisis mode when it comes to mental health, both in the workplace and in society.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we moved to prevention?”
Barclays has launched its This is Me campaign to challenge the stigma around mental health at work by supporting people to tell their own stories.
It began with only nine colleagues talking about their own personal mental health challenges. It has grown to include nearly 200 stories and over 60,000 visits to the web page.
In 2016, Barclays partnered with the City of London’s Lord Mayor’s Appeal and other charities to launch ‘This is Me in the City’.
By May 2017 more than 115 organisations had registered their interest.