Mental Health in the Workplace

What staff need to know

Increased awareness and skills training at the workplace, can help to reduce the severity, duration, and cost of mental health problems. The organisation should have procedures for making the all employees aware of the following:

  • what a mental health problem is
  • what a psychological injury is
  • how common mental health problems are
  • the types of mental health problems
  • the warning signs and symptoms of mental health problems
  • the causes of mental health problems
  • the work-related causes of mental health problems
  • the importance of early identification and intervention for preventing or limiting relapse in an employee with a mental health problem
  • the things they may notice which might indicate that an employee has a mental health problem, such as effects on attendance, completing work tasks, displaying unusual behaviours
  • the benefits for employees of disclosing their mental health problem to the organisation (e.g. to allow access to supports)
  • the fears employees may have about disclosing their mental health problem (e.g. stigma from others and not wanting to identify as ‘crazy’)
  • the impact of the symptoms of mental health problems on the skills necessary for work, such as problems with concentration, memory, decision making and motivation
  • that the level of support needed by employees with a mental health problem will fluctuate, as the symptoms of most mental health problems come and go over time
  • how they can reduce stressors that increase employees’ risk of relapse of mental health problems
  • how they can support employees with a mental health problem in ways that promote recovery
  • how to interact with an employee who is in a distressed state
  • how to respond in a mental health crisis situation
  • the mental health and disability support services available through the organisation and in the community
  • that the negative attitudes of others can be a major problem for an employee with a mental health problem
  • the myths surrounding health problems which lead to stigma and limit the potential productivity of employees affected by mental health problems
  • the relevant laws and organisation policies that affect interaction with employees with a mental health problem (e.g. Disability Discrimination Act 1992)
  • that it is not necessary to be without symptoms of the mental health problem to function successfully at work
  • that symptom improvements and work performances may happen at the same or different rates
  • that, despite looking fine, the employee may still be ill
  • that most people with a mental health problem who receive treatment respond with improved work performance
  • the value of work for health and recovery
  • that the employee might be anxious about returning to work

Find out more information about organisations offering mental health training.

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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