Mental Health in the Workplace

Myths about mental illness

There are many myths about mental illness...

Here are some facts from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Guide for Managers:

FACT 1: People with mental illness can and DO work

  • People with mental illness successfully work across the full spectrum of workplaces.
  • Some people disclose their mental illness and some do not. Most importantly, people with mental illness can succeed or fail, just like any other worker.
  • Examples of prominent people with mental illness who openly discuss and reflect on their mental health issues and have developed successful careers include Dr Geoff Gallop – Former WA Labor Premier, Craig Hamilton – ABC Sports Commentator, Olivia Newton John – Entertainer and Pat Cash – Tennis player.

FACT 2: Mental illness is treatable

Mental illness can be treated. This means that many people who have mental illness, and are being treated, recover well or even completely. However, because there are many different factors contributing to the development of each illness, it can sometimes be difficult to predict how, when, or to what degree someone is going to get better.

FACT 3: The vast majority of people with mental illness are NOT dangerous

It is far more likely that people with mental illness are victims of violence rather than being violent themselves. Only a small number of people with mental illness are violent and this tends to be when they are experiencing an untreated psychotic episode. This behaviour can be managed through the use of medication.

FACT 4: People with mental illness live and work in our communities

People with mental illness do live and work in our communities. The majority of people successfully manage their illness without it greatly impacting on their home and work life, while others may require support to minimise its impact.

FACT 5: People with mental illness have the same intellectual capacity as anyone else

Having mental illness does not necessarily imply any loss of intellectual functioning. Some symptoms and medications associated with mental illness may affect a person’s ability to concentrate, process, or remember information.

FACT 6: People with schizophrenia do NOT have multiple personalities

People with schizophrenia experience changes in their mental functioning where thoughts and perceptions become distorted and are often ‘split’ from reality. Schizophrenia is not about having ‘split or multiple personalities’, as is often portrayed in the media.

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"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