Can Mental Illness Co-Exist in the Workplace?

Can people have a mental illness at work and still perform capably? And, how do you recognise a mentally healthy workplace? The answers right here!

Yes, mental illness can co-exist in the workplace.

I’ve recently spoken to so many people (both men and women) who have been diagnosed with a mental illness and/or disorder who hide or are terrified of revealing it to their employer as they are scared they may lose their job. I’ve even heard a case where someone told their employer about a mental illness. This person is now being discriminated against, in terms or the way they are treated in the workplace.

I find this ludicrous. Not only is this further damaging for the person’s overall health but it also affects their work performance and efficiency in general. A good workplace is inclusive and recognises that people can have a mental illness and still perform capably in the roles they choose to.

In a recent report on the State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia by Heads Up and Beyond Blue the following statistics were found that significantly impacted workplaces.

A mentally healthy workplace is one that protects and promotes mental health and empowers people to seek help for depression and anxiety, for the benefit of the individual, organisation and community.

Mentally healthy workplaces are as important to Australian employees as physically safe workplaces. However, workplaces are not meeting their expectations:

  • 91% believe mental health in the workplace is important (88% believe physical safety is important).

  • Despite this, only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy compared to 76% for physical safety.

  • Only five in ten (56%) believe their most senior leader values mental health.

Mentally unhealthy workplaces impact on employee behaviour:

  • One in five Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.

  • This statistic is more than twice as high (46%) among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy.

  • Employees who believe their workplace is mentally unhealthy are unlikely to disclose within their workplace if they are experiencing a mental health condition, seek support from HR/management, or offer support to a colleague with a mental health condition.

There are 2 statistics in particular that stand out for me and I wanted to add my opinion on them.

#1. Only five in ten (56%) believe their most senior leader values mental health

In most workplaces culture, accountability and downright good work ethic comes from the top down, which makes this particular statistic so staggering. Only about half of employees feel that Senior Leaders value mental health – How can this be? How can we have allowance for physically sick days, yet mental illness is still not a common practice – this needs to change. Not only for the employee to feel more valued and productive at work but for the organisation to help reduce staff churn and absenteeism which we know costs so much company money.

#2. This statistic is more than twice as high (46%) among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy

This particular statistic outlines that almost half of employees take time off work due to mental illness but primarily in a working environment that does not promote a mentally healthy atmosphere. That’s a huge statistic which can so easily be changed.

If you’re a manager, run a team or influence people in your organisation then you need to take mental illness seriously. It can sometimes be as easy as a few of these things:

  • Offering a remote working day once or twice a month

  • Talking about it openly in closed door conversations

  • Reducing the stigma by sharing your organisation has a policy and stance on fostering good mental health

  • Don’t “brush off” someone when they say that they feel as if they need a mental health day to recoup.

Let’s break the stigma and bring what seems to be an uncomfortable conversation to the table.


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