Dealing with a mental health crisis at work

Mental health crises include:

  • suicidal behaviour or intention
  • panic attacks/extreme anxiety
  • psychotic episodes (loss of sense of reality, hallucinations, hearing voices)
  • other behaviour that seems out of control or irrational and that is likely to endanger yourself or others.

In a crisis, you should seek help, especially if you feel concerned about your safety or the safety of others in the workplace. The service you call first will depend on the type of crisis or emergency situation and when it occurs.

When an employee is at risk of suicide

SANE Australia identifies four basic steps to assist in helping a potentially suicidal worker.

1. Let them know you are concerned and that you are there to help

2. Ask if they are thinking about suicide and if they have made any active plans to do so. Remember:

  • talking about suicide will not make them take action
  • asking shows that you care
  • asking will help them talk about their feelings and plans – the first step to getting help

3. Take action to get help now:

  • tell them that there are other options to suicide
  • don’t agree to keep their suicidal thoughts or plans a secret
  • don’t assume they will get better without help or that they will seek help on their own

If the person is thinking about suicide, encourage them to:

  • make an appointment with a GP – offer for someone to go along with them
  • contact a counsellor or Employee Assistance Program (EAP), family member or friend
  • contact a specialist helpline for information and advice

If they have made a plan to end their life:

  • check if they are able to carry out this plan. Do they have a time, place or method?
  • contact the Psychiatric Emergency Team or Crisis Assessment Team (CAT) at the local hospital and the police on 000; report that the person is suicidal,
  • has made a plan and you fear for their safety
  • stay with the worker or arrange for someone to stay with them until they are linked with appropriate professional help

4. Take care of yourself:

  • it is emotionally demanding to support someone who is suicidal
  • find someone to talk things over with, including family, friends, others or a Helpline

When a person is at risk of harming others

A very small number of people with mental illness may become aggressive. If a worker shows aggressive behaviour in the workplace it is important to:

  • stay calm
  • talk in a calm, slow but firm manner
  • keep at a reasonable distance
  • suggest the worker sits down to help them feel more at ease; you should also sit down and not stand over them
  • try to calm the situation and create some trust by offering a cup of tea or coffee
  • give a firm command, such as ‘stop please’
  • if they do not stop, leave the worker alone in a safe environment where they are not at risk to themselves or others, until they have calmed down
  • take any threats or warnings seriously
  • contact the police or security if you are concerned about the safety of the worker and/or co-workers; tell
  • them the person has or may have a mental illness and requires medical help, ask them to send a plainclothes police officer if available, so the person will feel less threatened
  • contact the worker’s treating practitioner, if known
  • access your nearest appropriate medical practitioner

Read more...

See also the guidelines developed by Mental Health First Aid on appropriate first-aid behaviours for suicide, panic and psychosis.

Sources of immediate help

There are also crisis numbers for each state and territory:

Australian Capital Territory

  • Mental Health Triage Service: 02 6205 1065 or 1800 629 354
  • Salvo Care line: 1300 36 36 22

New South Wales

  • Mental Health Help Line: 1800 011 511
  • Salvo Crisis Line: 02 8736 3295 (Sydney)
  • Salvo Care line: 1300 36 36 22 (regional NSW)

Northern Territory

  • Northern Territory Crisis & Assessment Telephone Triage and Liaison Service: 1800 682 288 (1800 NT CATT)

Queensland

  • Health advice: 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84)
  • Salvo Crisis Line: 07 3831 9016 (Brisbane)
  • Salvo Care line: 1300 36 36 22 (regional QLD)

South Australia

  • Assessment & Crisis Intervention Service: 131 465

Tasmania

  • Mental Health Services helpline: 1800 332 388

Victoria

  • SuicideLine: 1300 651 251

Western Australia

  • WA Mental health emergency response line: 1300 555 788 (Metropolitan area) or 1800 676 822 (Peel area)
  • Rurallink: 1800 552 002 (rural WA only)
  • Samaritans Suicide Emergency line (country): 1800 198 313
  • Crisis Care Helpline: 1800 199 008