How to talk about mental health in the workplace - SEEK Career Advice

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How to talk about mental health in the workplace

How to talk about mental health in the workplace

Having a job that you enjoy and find fulfilling can have a hugely positive impact on your personal life. On the other hand, if you dread going to work, you’re constantly stressed and feel that you have little support, your job can take a huge mental toll. 

According to Beyond Blue, a staggering one in six Australians are currently experiencing mental health conditions, yet mental health is still a taboo topic in many workplaces.

So what can you do if you are struggling with your own mental health? And what should you do if you think a colleague needs help?           

“Our aspiration at Beyond Blue is that one day we live in an Australia where everyone can talk openly about a mental health condition in the same way that they would tell their employer if they broke their leg,” says O’Brien. 

Why is good mental health in the workplace important?

A good work environment is empowering, it can help to give you a sense of purpose and keep you engaged and connected with others, says Patrice O’Brien, General Manager Workplace, Partnerships and Engagement at Beyond Blue.

According to Beyond Blue, work can provide valuable benefits that have a positive impact on mental health such as:

  • Improving quality of life and wellbeing
  • Giving structure and routine to day-to-day life
  • Contributing to a sense of meaning and purpose
  • Promoting opportunities for social inclusion and support
  • Providing financial security.

Should I tell my boss or colleagues about my mental health condition?

Awareness of mental health has increased hugely in the last few years. But unfortunately, the decision on whether to tell your boss or co-workers isn’t clear-cut, explains O’Brien.

“Our aspiration at Beyond Blue is that one day we live in an Australia where everyone can talk openly about a mental health condition in the same way that they would tell their employer if they broke their leg,” says O’Brien.

“But we're not there yet.”

If you’re currently employed: 
There is no definitive answer on this one, and it really does depend on your individual circumstances and what would be best for you.

“Deciding to tell your employer or not is a really big decision,” says O’Brien.

“Often, a lot of it comes down to individuals’ relationships with their managers and how openly things are discussed in the workplace.”

You might decide to tell your employer if:

  • Telling them about your mental health will be well received.
  • Your employer will make reasonable adjustments to support you in the workplace, such as reducing your work days or hours.
  • Your colleagues will be understanding, and telling them the facts will help avoid gossip and rumours.

On the other hand, you might choose not to tell your employer if:

  • You are worried about potential discrimination or reduced career opportunities.
  • Your mental health condition doesn’t affect your ability to do your job, and you don’t need any changes to your workload.
  • You feel you have enough support outside the workplace and there isn’t much to gain by telling your boss.

If you’re currently searching for a job:

“For people who are looking for a job today it's even harder, because you don't have the visibility of what that workplace is like.”

A great way to try and get some insights is by researching the company online and asking questions at the interview stage about the workplace culture and the support services available to staff, O’Brien says.

“That will give you some clues around what kind of environment you might be going in to, and whether it is one where you might be able to be more open.”

If you want to get the inside scoop, try to do some networking and see if you can find someone who does or has worked at the organisation to help you get a better understanding.

How can I help a colleague?

“We often spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our family and friends, so colleagues are in a really good position to pick up that someone doesn't seem to be themselves lately.”

It’s important to remember that if a colleague needs helps, you don’t need to be their counsellor or to diagnose them, O’Brien says.

Instead, try to start a conversation if you notice signs that a colleague:

  • Doesn’t seem themselves
  • Has fluctuating moods
  • Is withdrawn or grumpy
  • Isn’t as engaged in things
  • Is forgetful or having trouble concentrating
  • Isn’t performing well at work

“If you notice those differences it can be worth saying to someone ‘hey, I just noticed that you don't seem to have been yourself lately, is everything okay?’.”

Try to listen openly with genuine care and concern, without stigma or discrimination.

What resources and tools can help me learn more?

Beyond Blue has an online interactive tool to help you decide whether to tell your workplace about a mental health condition.

And for more information on mental health at work, go to Beyond Blue’s Heads Up website.

Mental health professionals are available at the Beyond Blue support service via phone 24/7 on 1300 22 4636 or via www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat.

http://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/how-to-talk-about-mental-health-in-the-workplace