Supporting mental health in the workplace

Business owners have a responsibility to look after their staff and ensure they have a healthy working environment. This extends to mental health as well as physical. With one in five people experiencing a mental health issue at some stage in their life, there is a greater need to have mental health support specifically within the workplace environment of small businesses.

While most workers can successfully manage their illness without it impacting on their work, some may require support for a short period of time and others may require ongoing workplace strategies. Employers should be aware of mental health issues they can encounter and how best to approach them. Research is key in helping to understand what your employee is going through, how to recognise the illness and ways to successfully manage it.

Employers need to recognise the role in which work can play in an individual’s mental health. An ‘unhealthy’ work environment or a workplace incident can cause considerable stress and possibly contribute to or worsen a mental illness. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, employers must make changes to the workplace to enable someone with anxiety and/or depression to remain at or return to work, provided they can continue to meet the core requirements of their role. These changes can be temporary or permanent.

There are many ways to support individuals in the workplace who are experiencing a mental health condition. Listening and offering support can make a huge difference to an individual who is experiencing mental health problems. Whilst some conditions may require time off, others may feel better continuing to work. Developing a work plan is a great way to maintain a routine whilst helping ensure they are not pushing themselves. Continually check in on progress, both work and health-related, and make adjustments where necessary. Informing other team members of changes without disclosing details is a good practice so no one feels that certain staff are being given special privileges.

Further ways to promote mental health initiatives within your business include encouraging members of your workplace to seek help, reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness, and fostering connectivity and communication. Managing mental health within your business by avoiding conditions that lead to excessive stress and encouraging awareness and support can have many positive outcomes and cultivate a mentally safe and healthy workplace. Employers should also familiarise themselves with the work health and safety regulatory body in their state or territory.

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