MENTAL HEALTH: A Big Issue in our Workplace

The incidence of mental illness in our community as well as in our workplace is increasing. Mental illness is more prevalent than many people realise. Around 25% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. The most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, more than half of these people with mental illness do not access medical treatment.Mental-Illness

An employee may develop a mental illness prior to employment or during employment. Most employees successfully manage their illness without it impacting on their work. However, others may require workplace support for a short period of time, while a few will require ongoing workplace strategies.

All employers have legal obligations in relation to the management of mental illness in the workplace. The law requires that a workplace is safe and healthy for all workers and does not cause ill health or exacerbate existing mental conditions. Additionally, anti-discrimination laws require an employer not to discriminate against or harass workers with mental illness. Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of workers with a mental illness, just as they would in relation to an employee who has a back injury.

A common presumption is that an employee’s mental illness develops outside of the workplace. However, an ‘unhealthy’ work environment or a workplace incident can exacerbate an employee’s mental illness. Unfortunately, in some cases the workplace is the cause of the employee’s mental illness.

Stress-related workers’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years and Australian businesses are losing millions of dollars each year by failing to provide early intervention/treatment for employees with mental health conditions. Additionally, a healthy and safe workplace minimises stress levels, improves moral and achieves greater staff loyalty. Therefore, it goes without saying that is imperative that employers are aware of mental health issues in its workplace and are taking steps to ensure strategies are in place so people can seek help.

One way for an employer to help employees with mental health issues is to ensure they can work under flexible arrangements, so that they can spend time with their families, attend healthcare appointments and allow employees to make up the time later. Other ways employers can help their employees is by:

  • encouraging employees to seek professional help by developing a culture of respect for diversity;
  • ensuring staff are aware of employee assistance programs, encouraging staff to maintain a balance between physical, mental and social wellbeing;
  • being quick to act on discrimination and bullying; and
  • conducting sessions in mental health awareness and stress management.

Today’s workforce is a diverse one and even employees with mental illnesses have abilities and skills which will benefit an organization. The cost of ignoring mental health issues is far greater than the cost of developing and implementing strategies to create a safe and healthy workplace. Providing a healthy and safe workplace benefits all employees and simply makes good business sense.

Is your workplace committed to good mental health?

Did you know that it is Mental Health Week this week?

Mental Health week (from Sunday 5 October 2014) coincides with and marks World Mental Health Day on 10 October.

Mental Health Week aims to educate and engage people about mental health issues.  There is still a high degree of stigma associated with mental health in the workplace – people don’t want to admit to it for fear of being judged, or for fear that it may impact their career progression, or their performance.  So often people suffer in silence.

In workplaces, mental health issues, most commonly depression and anxiety, may come to light in the context of a performance management discussion, or when there is a crisis of some sort.

People with no experience of mental health issues don’t know what to do in these situations.

The most important thing to do if someone comes to you to talk to you about a diagnosis, or a concern that they may need help is to listen, and without judgement. The same applies if you decide to approach someone you think may need help.  It is hard for people to open up about these issues – don’t make it harder by dismissing or passing your own judgement.

Anyone can do a mental health first aid course – you can find the details here (  While this topic is a long one here is a very basic list on what to do, based on the guidelines of the mental health first aid course:

A –approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis

L –  listen non-judgmentally.

G – give support and information (look at the Beyond Blue ( website for example for resources)

E – encourage the person to get appropriate professional help ( and the best place to start is the GP, or your EAP service, if you have one)

E – encourage other supports (eg, family, friends – encourage them to talk)

The best thing you can do for someone suffering any illness is to be kind, and mental illness is no different.