Three Part Series: Frequently Asked Questions about Managing Mental Ill-Health in the Workplace, Part One

Frequently Asked Questions about Managing Mental Ill-Health in the Workplace, Part One

With 1 in 5 Australians experiencing a mental illness, it is an important and relevant topic that requires the attention and understanding of all staff within an organisation, in particular those with people management responsibilities. In this Three Part Series, iHR answers some of the most commonly asked questions about managing mental ill-health in the workplace.


1. What is mental health and what is mental ill health?

Mental health is a sense of wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem. It enables us to fully enjoy and appreciate other people, day-to-day life and our environment.

Mental ill health is characterised by a significant disturbance of thought, mood, perception or memory.  A mental illness can be mild or severe, temporary or prolonged. Most mental illnesses can be treated.


2. What are my legal responsibilities as an Employer/Director/Manager?

An Employer / Director / Manager has three basic legal responsibilities when managing mental ill health in the workplace:

• Not discriminate against an employee because of mental illness;
• Protect the privacy and confidentiality of the employee;
• Provide reasonable workplace adjustments to support employees with mental illness.


3. What are the legal responsibilities of an employee / team member?

There is no legal obligation for an employee to disclose a mental illness unless it is likely to put their safety, or that of their colleagues or workplace at risk.


4. What are some organisational risk factors that may impact mental health?

• Poor communication
• Lack of definition of organisational objectives
• Role ambiguity or conflict
• Poor pay
• Job insecurity
• Bullying
• Conflicting demands of work and home
• Lack of variety, fragmented or meaningless work
• Expectation of excessive overtime
• High levels of time pressure
• Lack of recognition or reward
• Autocratic, Laissez-faire or self-interested leaders
• Continuous change
• Poor fit between the job requirements and the person’s competencies
• Unsafe, messy, noisy or dirty workplace


5. What are possible indicators that an employee may be experiencing mental ill health?

• Sustained changes to physical functioning and/or appearance, such as pain, effects of fatigue, decline in personal grooming.
• Sustained changes to cognitive processes, such as memory, concentration, decision-making, thought formation, organisation and planning.
• Sustained changes to social interaction, such as lack of cooperation or isolation.
• Sustained changes to emotional functioning, such as displays of anger or sadness.
• Frequent absences from work or significantly reduced engagement in work.
• Acting out of character and/or inappropriate behaviour.
• Persistent swings in behaviour, energy levels and mood.


It is important to note that it is not your role to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. Your role is to note persistent changes to the mood, behaviour, physical appearance and performance of the team member.