Not unlike other health conditions, mental illness is different for every sufferer. There are many illnesses contained under the blanket of ‘mental illness’, and some stark differences between them, but today we are going to examine two of the most common.

It’s important to remember that there is no difference between mental and physical health. It is not the fault of the sufferer, nor is it anything that should be regarded as shameful, or embarrassing.

It is your job as an employer to ensure that your workplace is a safe and positive environment to be a part of, and understanding and talking openly about, mental illness is a big part of what is required to break stigma and move forward.

Mental illness in Australia

Recent data from The World Health Organisation indicates that mental illnesses (particularly depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia and personality disorders) are associated with more than 90% of all cases of suicide. Although effective treatments for most of these conditions have been identified, they are not always available, or used.

According to research conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2008, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions experienced by people in Australia, and tend to affect people during their prime working years (16 to 64 years).


Statistics compiled by The Black Dog Institute, show that the fifth most common mental illness in Australia is anxiety, affecting up to one-third of women and one-fifth of men during the course of their lives.

Whilst we all experience anxiety, when it escalates to the point of illness, anxiety is debilitating and life-altering. It can be particularly frightening due to the physical symptoms that accompany it, particularly with severe episodes that may involve panic attacks.

According to Beyond Blue, Common symptoms include:

  • Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, feeling tense, wound up and edgy
  • Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking
  • Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life


We all feel sad, moody and low from time to time, but depression is far more severe than that. People with depression may experience these feelings intensely, for months or even years, and sometimes without any apparent cause or reason.

Depression is more than just a low mood, it is a serious illness that is debilitating for both physical and mental health

According to Beyond Blue, Common symptoms include:

  • Physical: tired all the time, sick and run down, headaches and muscle pains, churning gut, sleep problems, loss or change of appetite, significant weight loss or gain
  • Psychological: overwhelmed, guilty, irritable, frustrated, lacking in confidence, unhappy, indecisive, disappointed, miserable, sad
  • Behavioural: not going out anymore, not getting things done at work/school, withdrawing from close family and friends, relying on alcohol and sedatives, not doing usual enjoyable activities and unable to concentrate

What can you do if an employee is suffering from mental illness?

If you have an employee in your organisation that is suffering from mental illness, there are plenty of things that you can do to improve their work environment, or make things easier for them.

For more information, check out our employer resource on ‘Building a Mentally Healthy Workplace’, which also outlines your legal responsibilities.

Need extra support? Or information on other mental health conditions?

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.