Mental Health in the Workplace

Early warning signs of mental health problems at work

Watch this short film about recognising mental health problems in your employees:

Early warning signs that may show up at work in someone developing a mental health problem include*:


  • not getting things done
  • erratic behaviour
  • emotional responses
  • complaints of lack of management support
  • fixation with fair treatment issues
  • complaints of not coping with workload
  • withdrawn from colleagues
  • reduced participation in work activities
  • increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and/or sedatives
  • inability to concentrate
  • indecisive
  • difficulty with memory
  • loss of confidence
  • unplanned absences
  • conflict with team members/manager
  • use of grievance procedures
  • increased errors and/or accidents.

Physical / physiological signs

  • tired all the time
  • sick and run down
  • headaches
  • persistent/resistant musculo-skeletal complaints
  • reduced reaction times
  • difficulty sleeping
  • weight loss or gain
  • dishevelled appearance
  • gastro-intestinal disorders
  • rashes

*With thanks to Dr Graeme Edwards, Medibank Private

As with many things, taking action early is likely to prevent problems getting more serious and causing major difficulties later on. If you have noticed these signs in one of your employees, some suggested ways of approaching them include:

“You’ve been looking really tired lately, is everything okay?”

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been turning up to work late, is there anything going on?”

“Is there any support that we can offer?”

"In so many cases, managers or colleagues, they might think that there's a problem but they avoid it, they don't ask early enough. So by the time they do have the conversation, it's really difficult - people are on the back foot and it can get hostile. Managers need to be more proactive and have these conversations earlier. You can keep it low key, just check in with the person, ask them if they are getting the support they need."
HR Manager
*not her real name
"If someone broke their arm we wouldn't be worrying about whether or not we were liable, we'd just send them to the doctor. It should be the same for mental health problems."
OHS Manager
* not his real name
"Some employers think that if they accept that there is a problem, then that means they are accepting liability. Sometimes that stops them helping get employees into treatment. Actually they would be better off getting the person into treatment early - that's likely to reduce the risk of a stress claim. I recommend that where they can, employers offer to pay for two sessions of treatment without considering issues of liability."
Occupational Physician
*not her real name