Safety, Health and Wellbeing

Managing mental health issues in the workplace

Our role is to develop and assist in the implementation of the UWA safety, health and wellbeing programs in order to minimise the risk of injury, illness and property damage.

We provide consultancy and other services to promote best practice and legislative compliance in all University and related activities.

Contacts

University staff members available for further advice about managing mental health in the workplace include:


Safety and Health

Phone (+61 8) 6488 7894

Email andrea.roelofs@uwa.edu.au


Employee Relations and Management Services

Phone (+61 8) 6488 3845

Email jessica.price@uwa.edu.au


Inclusion and Diversity

Phone (+61 8) 6488 7807

Email fadzi.whande@uwa.edu.au

Managers and supervisors have an important role to play in appropriately supporting employees experiencing a mental health problem. This includes having a basic level of understanding of mental health issues, communicating effectively to employees about mental health, and making reasonable adjustments in the workplace to enable employees with a mental health issue or illness to do their job. 

  1. Legal obligations
  2. Recognising possible behavioural impacts
  3. How to talk about mental health in the workplace
  4. Reasonable adjustments
  5. Privacy and confidentiality
  6. Terminology

Legal obligations

Employers are legally obliged to: 

  • Not discriminate against an employee with mental illness. Disability Discrimination legislation requires you to ensure your workplace does not discriminate against or harass workers with mental illness (either directly or indirectly). This extends to making reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of workers with mental illness.
  • Ensure health and safety. Occupational Health and Safety legislation requires you to ensure your workplace is safe and healthy for all workers and does not cause ill health or aggravate existing conditions.
  • Ensure privacy. Privacy legislation requires you to ensure personal information about a worker’s mental health status is not disclosed to anyone without the worker's consent.
  • Avoid adverse actions. You are also required under Commonwealth industrial law to ensure your workplace does not take any adverse action against a worker because of their mental illness. 

All workers (including those with mental illness) are legally obliged to:

  • Take reasonable care for their own health and safety
  • Take reasonable care that their acts and omissions do not adversely affect the health or safety of others
  • Co-operate with any reasonable instructions to ensure workplace health and safety.

More information on the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees is available on the Heads Up web page.

Back to top 

Recognising possible behavioural impacts

At any given time an individual’s mental health might fluctuate along a continuum from being very unwell and struggling, to periods of being very well and buoyant. At each stage of the continuum strategies can be used in the workplace to appropriately manage the presenting issues. These could range from introducing preventative strategies at the lower end of the scale, to responding to a serious incident or crisis at the higher end.


Image of the continuum between mentally health and mentally unwell with intervention strategies

© Copyright Blooming Minds WA Pty Ltd 2014. All rights reserved. 

The following table provides examples of some common behavioural impacts of mental health problems.

Table showing impacts of mental illness

© Copyright Blooming Minds WA Pty Ltd 2014. All rights reserved. 

If you notice any of these signs and you are concerned about an employee, don’t assume they are experiencing mental health issues. Instead have a conversation with the person about what you’ve observed. Having the symptoms in itself does not mean that a person is experiencing mental illness. It is when the symptoms are pervasive, long lasting and are impacting on a person’s functioning that it may be at a clinical level of illness. If symptoms are observed and are of concern these can be appropriately addressed with the employee and assistance may be able to be sought to prevent the issue developing further. 

Find out about how to initiate such a discussion.

Back to top

How to talk about mental health in the workplace

Reasonable adjustments

Privacy and confidentiality

An employee’s medical information is protected under privacy laws. If an employee discloses, or a manager considers, that a person is experiencing mental health issues then this information can only be disclosed further as necessary to provide direct support or adjustments to the employee. The information may need to be shared with relevant line managers and to Human Resource staff, however it cannot be disclosed to others who do not have any responsibility in the situation. This is true even where reasonable adjustments are made to support the employee. The adjustments may be visible and obvious to the person’s colleagues and yet the manager/s needs to work with the employee to determine how much and what to disclose about why those changes have occurred. 

The only instance in which concerns may be raised without the individual's consent is if they are considered a direct and imminent risk to themselves or others. This information may then be disclosed to the relevant authorities who have authority to intervene. 

Back to top

Terminology

Discuss with the employee if and how they would like their illness and any adjustments explained to their colleagues. The language that you use is critical. Inappropriate language can increase stigma and prejudice. It can also increase misunderstanding and feed negative stereotypes, possibly leaving a vulnerable person feeling more isolated, misunderstood and without hope. 

For example, instead of “He’s suffering from schizophrenia” or “He’s schizophrenic”, say: “He’s living with schizophrenia.” or “He’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia and what that means for him is …” 

Back to top