Mental Illness in Australian Workplaces

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 5 million of Australia’s 7.9 million full-time employees put in more than 40 hours every week, with 1.6 million racking up more than 50 working hours.

Whilst a study by BeyondBlue in 2014, shows that only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy, compared to 76% for physical safety.

Additionally, 1 in 5 Australians (21%) have taken time off in the last 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy, and this statistic more than doubles to 46% among those who consider their workplace to be mentally unhealthy.

With a sheer volume of data and research to indicate the importance of mentally healthy workplaces, there’s never been a better time for employers to start looking at their procedures, policies and organisations.

What are your legal responsibilities?

To provide a workplace that is free from discrimination

In Australia it is illegal to discriminate against, harass or victimise people with disabilities, including temporary, permanent, past, present or future, actual or just presumed mental health conditions.

The Australia-wide Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and equivalent state and territory laws define discrimination as both direct and indirect descrimination, meaning that an employer can be at fault for not making reasonable adjustments, for a worker with a mental health condition, even though no ‘direct’ discrimination has happened.

To provide a workplace that is physically and mentally safe and healthy

Australian workplace health and safety (WH&S) legislation sets out your legal responsibilities, and requires that workplaces are reasonably practicable, physically and mentally safe and healthy for all employees.

This may mean you need to make some changes to make sure that the environment does not cause any harm, or worsen any pre-existing conditions your employees may have.

This legislation acknowledges that employees have a responsibility for their own health and safety as well.

Find your local WH&S regulator:

What does a mentally healthy workplace look like?

Two workplaces that are very mentally healthy, might not look similar. But there are some common themes that are seen in workplaces that do this well:

  • Positive culture: they want to be there, they feel good being there, and everyone is encouraged, supported and respected.
  • Stressors and risks are managed: stress, heavy workloads, unrealistic expectations or deadlines, poor communication, uncertainty and chaos, are not the ingredients for a mentally healthy workplace
  • People experiencing mental illness are supported: not only is there understanding and support from management, but also from fellow co-workers and colleagues.
  • Zero-tolerance approach to disrespect and discrimination: it’s a legal requirement, but this must come from the top and be upheld at all times.

What can you do as an employer to create a mentally healthy environment?

If you’re not sure your workplace is mentally healthy, or if you’d like to improve on your approach, there’s plenty of things you can do - starting today:

  • SUPPORT every employee
  • EDUCATE yourself + your staff about mental health
  • ENCOURAGE healthy behaviours
  • CHAMPION change and positive work behaviours
  • REDUCE stressors and look to constantly improve
  • DEMONSTRATE the values you want to see more of

Need extra support?

If you’re faced with a problem in your business, or organisation, or would like to chat about how best to prevent future issues, we’d love to chat. You can reach us on 136 123 Mon-Fri 8:30am - 5:30PM AEST.

At Employment Plus, we are fortunate to be partnered with The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), to offer eligible employees industrial relations advice at no cost, when you place two or more of our job seekers. For more information, please call us on 136 123.

Depending on your situation, you may need additional and/or different help.

Here are some more useful contacts:

  • Lifeline - 13 11 14 - for crisis support and suicide prevention.
  • Beyond Blue’s Support Service – 1300 22 4636 – for information and advice on depression, anxiety and related conditions, available treatments and where to get help. The information line is not a counselling or crisis line.
  • SANE Australia’s website and helpline – 1800 18 SANE (7623) – provides information about symptoms, treatments, medications, where to go for support and help for carers.
  • R U OK? - a suicide prevention charity in Australia, reminding people that having meaningful conversations with mates and loved ones could save lives.
  • Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467 - free, nationwide telephone and online counselling for anyone affected by suicide.
  • Conversations Matter - Practical online resource to support safe and effective community discussions about suicide.
  • Mental Health First Aid - offer courses to teach mental health first aid strategies to members of the public.
  • Heads Up - gives individuals and businesses tools to create mentally healthy workplaces.