People often think mental health means not having a mental health disorder (e.g. major depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder). But in the same way being physically healthy doesn’t just mean not having a disease, mental health actually refers to how well a person is in their thinking, managing their emotions, relating to others, and generally meeting the demands of everyday life and employment.

In other words, it is a sliding scale, with one end marked by mental health disorders, to living with mental health struggles, then to mental health and wellbeing – where a person is thriving. At the wellbeing end of the scale, people feel connected and happy in their personal life and work, have rich social interactions, and contribute to their community.

How common are mental problems?
It is estimated that, at any time in Australia, 1 in 5 working age people will be suffering from a diagnosable mental health disorder. Another 1 in 5 will be suffering from other mental health issues (such as worry, fatigue, sleep problems) which, even though they aren’t considered a diagnosable disorder, still affect their ability at work.

Why is it important in the workplace?
Work is very important for most people because of how much time they spend there. It is also a big part of who they are, their social networks and how it enables them to live, learn and grow.

Workplaces can also have a negative impact on workers’ mental health and possibly lead to a mental health issue. Mental health risks at work can come, for example, from how people treat each other, the physical work environment, how work is organised and how people are managed.
When people are unwell mentally, it costs businesses through sick leave, lower productivity, finding and training replacement staff, and even possibly workers’ compensation claims.

Mentally healthy workplaces promote the positive, prevent harm, and manage mental illness and injury in a timely manner.

Factors for a mentally healthy workplace

  • Balance – A workplace that recognises the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life.
  • Workload management – A workplace where employees are given enough time to do the tasks and responsibilities assigned to them.
  • Organisational culture – A workplace that shows trust, honesty and fairness.
  • Clear leadership and expectations – A workplace where there is effective leadership so that employees know what they need to do, where their work fits in with the rest of the organisation, and whether there are any changes coming up.
  • Growth and improvement – A workplace where employees are encouraged to grow their social, emotional and job skills.
  • Recognition and reward – A workplace where employees’ efforts are noticed and appreciated.
  • Engagement – A workplace where employees enjoy and feel connected to their work and where they feel motivated to do their job well.
  • Supportive – A workplace where co-workers and managers care about employees’ mental health concerns. If someone needs support or if something traumatic happens, co-workers and managers respond appropriately.
  • Courtesy and respect – A workplace where employees are respectful and considerate with one another, as well as with customers, clients and the public.
  • Involvement and inclusion – A workplace where employees are included in discussions about how their work is done and how important decisions are made.
  • Psychological skills – A workplace where employees have the social, emotional and job skills they need to do their jobs.
  • Psychological safety – A workplace where employees feel able to put themselves on the line, ask questions, seek feedback, report mistakes and problems, or propose a new idea without fear.
  • Physical safety – When employees are physically safe it is much easier to feel psychologically safe.