The terrible impact of mental illness on our society has been well documented and as 2015 draws to a close, it continues to be a significant problem for Australian families and businesses to manage. Research suggests almost half of Australians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime, with the cost to business estimated to be about $12.3 billion dollars.
Mental illness can affect anyone, irrespective of age, gender or ethnicity, however research suggests the prevalence is highest during our prime working years, with one in five Australians aged 18 – 84 experiencing a mental illness in any given year. It can impact on our businesses and employees, resulting in high levels of absenteeism, presenteeism (reduced productivity at work) and staff turnover. However, despite this, nearly half of all senior managers believe their workers will not experience a mental health problem at work.

Misunderstandings surrounding mental illness, depression and anxiety disorders in particular, can make it difficult for people to speak up if they are experiencing problems. It can be equally challenging for business leaders identify someone experiencing a mental health problem, as well as know how to help an employee through a difficult situation. However, improved understanding can help organisational leaders to identify common symptoms and better supporting employees.

There are a number of personal factors, such as having a family history of mental illness that can lead a person to experience depression. Circumstances like ongoing stress and anxiety at work, or living with an abusive partner, can also play a part. Whatever the cause, the first step towards recovery is recognising that the issue exists.


Common signs of depression


  • Feeling helpless and hopeless, as though things will never improve
  • Withdrawing from former interests, social engagements and losing the ability to feel joy or pleasure
  • Over sleeping (hypersomnia) or insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning
  • Sudden bursts of anger, irritability, andfeeling agitated, easily irritated and even violent.
  • Lethargy, feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Even the smallest task is exhausting and can take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing, strong feelings of worthlessness or feeling highly critical of perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Lack of concentration, having trouble focusing, making decisions and memory loss.


How to support a colleague who may be suffering from depression

Open-ended questions are a good way to initiate a conversation as they show respect and concern. Consider this Beyond Blue checklist:

  • Indicate to your colleague that you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour
  • Suggest they seek help, for example, by talking to their GP
  • Refer to available resources at work such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) as well as information on depression or anxiety disorders

In early 2016, iHR Australia will offer training around Managing Mental Ill-Health in the Workplace, assisting managers in handling this complex issue. Led by our consulting psychologist and utilising our unique Workplace Reality Theatre, attendees will observe reenactments of relevant and engaging real-life scenarios for group discussions, practice conducting sensitive and effective conversations pertaining to early intervention strategies and also participate in group case study activities.


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