Mental illness is often misunderstood, and in the workplace, common mental illness conditions like stress, anxiety and depression can affect your employee’s mood, thinking and behaviour. For some people, mental illness is a single episode, and for others, it is a lifelong condition. In Australia, 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental illness in any given year and 45% of Australians between 16-85 will experience mental illness at some point in their life.
All employers are obliged to take appropriate steps to eliminate and minimise health and safety risks in the workplace and we often presume that mental illness develops outside work. This is not always the case. If you work in an ‘unhealthy’ work environment, the anxiety and stress this can cause will contribute to mental illness.
Anxiety and stress
Experiencing anxiety is a normal part of life and it can occur when we face danger or problems in our life. Sometimes we get anxious when overthinking takes over our thoughts or we get anxious through intense and persistent worrying. Anxiety comes in intense and repetitive episodes, where fear and/or panic attacks overcome their bodies. One of the major causes of anxiety is stress. Stress can also cause physical illness and some of the common symptoms are overeating, binge drinking, headaches, pain, loss of appetite and insomnia.
Workplace depression is an area of increasing concern and it can affect not only the employee’s productivity and happiness, but the mood of their co-workers. Public awareness programs like RU OK Day have helped Australian businesses become more aware and open about depression and suicide prevention. Workplaces are more openly talking about mental health and meaningfully connecting with their workers and colleagues to help those who may be struggling with life.
If you want to make your workplace more mentally ‘healthy’, here are guidelines on what you need to be doing today.
Understand mental illness
- Understand the basic facts – including the common symptoms and how they can affect a person in their daily functioning
- If one of your employees is suffering from a mental illness, understand their individual circumstances, how are the symptoms making them feel, how is this affecting their work and are they receiving the appropriate support and medical treatment?
- Speak to you Employee Assistance Program (EAP) partner who can provide you with resources and information on identifying and helping those people suffering from a mental illness.
- Letting your employees know they have your support is important. If they don’t trust that you genuinely care, they will not speak up or reach out when they need help.
- Reassure them they will be treated fairly and no differently to any other employee.
- Promote the fact that your workplace is supportive of employees experiencing mental health problems just as you do with employees who have physical health issues.
- Make it very clear who (and where) employees can reach out to and get support. E.g. EAP poster, Beyond Blue or Lifeline number etc. Have this information prominent in bathroom and kitchen areas, intranet or anywhere that attracts a lot of office traffic.
- Regularly talk about mental health in team meetings and catchups. Don’t make it a taboo subject.
- Now that you understand what mental health looks like, it’s time to take action
- Openly talk about mental health with your team and engage with an EAP Provider
- Educate your staff on how to identify the warning signs and what to do to help a colleague suffering from mental health issues.
If you would like more information on managing mental health at work, speak with our HR team at Employment Innovations. We can offer a range of solutions and EAP programs to support your business. Contact us today or call 1300 144 120.