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.


Don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions?  Fair enough. Here are 15 things you can just DO for your career in 2015.Goals 2015

Set goals

Setting realistic and achievable goals, and working towards them will bring you great satisfaction at the end of the year as your reflect on your achievements.  Goals, turned into action items, are achievable.

Know your worth

Find out what the going rate is for your level and area of expertise.   If you have exceeded your budget, ask questions, based on what you know about the market.

Learn the art of a difficult conversation

Avoiding difficult conversations just makes the problem worse.  There are some fantastic articles and blogs on the internet that provide guidance.

Prepare for your appraisal properly

Your performance appraisal, if annual, is about your performance over the last 12 months, not 12 days.  Keep a notebook and make notes of things that have gone well, things that did not go so well, things you want to learn, or courses you want to attend.  Keep a copy of compliments from senior lawyers and clients.  Keep a record of presentations done (including internal) and articles published, and other contributions to the firm.  If you are expecting constructive criticism, prepare for it, take it on board and act on it.

Find a mentor

If someone is acting as a mentor to you, keep the relationship going.  If you need a mentor, let a relationship develop into a mentoring one, or ask a trusted senior colleague if they would be prepared to mentor you.

Be a mentor

Even if you have just finished your graduate year, you have the capacity to be a mentor to someone more junior.  Make yourself available, answer questions and give advice.

Master presentations

If you hate public speaking, learn to love it, or at least not dislike it.  The worst thing you can do is avoid speaking opportunities.  Look for them and practice the craft and you will soon be owning the room.

Write articles

Look for opportunities to write about your area of expertise – even if it for internal use only.  Once you get into the habit, it will become easier.  A wise person at a writing conference once said “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block.  They just do their job.  There is no such thing as writer’s block”

Business Development

Whatever your level or experience you can play a role in business development.  Think about ways to add value to clients – we have previously written about that here:

Exercise for mental health not to lose weight

The benefits of exercise for a healthy mind don’t need to be explained.  Forget about losing weight for the moment.  Get regular exercise, even in 10 minute bursts to get your heart rate up, and you will feel better for it.

Plan for breaks

Make plans for holidays – it will give you something to look forward to and allow you to have a break from the office.  Closing your eyes and taking yourself off on a little ‘mind break’ by imagining yourself somewhere peaceful while breathing slowly will give you more energy for the next task.

Ask questions for clarity

If you are unsure of what is required of you, always ask questions for clarity.  It will save a lot of time and frustration.

Volunteer in the firm

Get yourself known outside your own practice group by volunteering on committees.  Your promotion will depend on the opinion of people other than your supervising partner.

Cross marketing

Look for opportunities to introduce clients to other people and services in the firm.  If your client is a property developer, introduce her or him to someone in finance, or litigation, should they ever need those services.

Accept responsibility; give credit

Make sure you don’t become defensive or blame others when something goes wrong.  Accept responsibility if it is yours (and sometimes it might not be but you should accept responsibility anyway) and give credit when it is due.  For example, a timely advice may not have just depended on you – your secretary and the person who helped with the research deserve credit too.

There are probably many other things that didn’t make our list of 15 things to do in 2015 for your career.  What are you going to do?

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.