Safety, Health and Injury Management and Wellbeing

Common mental health issues

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.

The University encourages all staff and students to learn about common mental health issues, and how to respond appropriately.

Mental health is a continuum

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.

Continuum between mentally healthy and mentally unwell

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There is often misunderstanding and misconception around mental health and mental illness. To assist with developing a shared understanding of the appropriate language and terminology around these issues a glossary of terms is available within the the University's Mental Health Policy.

Common forms of mental illness

The most common mental illnesses in Australia are anxiety disorders, affective disorders and substance use disorders.

Age distribution of common mental health illnesses

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses with 14.4% of Australians aged 16-85 experiencing anxiety disorders every year, more than twice the rate of depressive disorders. Clinical anxiety is often disregarded as ‘being stressed’. However while stress is a normal (and at times helpful) emotion, when someone experiences ongoing, long-lasting stress, it impacts on their everyday functioning and may be heading towards an anxiety disorder.  As the symptom or emotion of stress is considered both a helpful and a harmful experience, anxiety disorders are some of the most regularly misunderstood, underrated illnesses, despite being the most common.

Affective (depressive) disorders (6.2%  of Australians aged 16-85 experience affective disorders every year) are more understood and accepted in our community and people are often more comfortable disclosing them because of this reduced stigma. People are more likely to seek professional help for affective disorders than people with anxiety or substance use disorders.  

Good sources of information by condition are outlined below:

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Treatment and recovery

Some people will have short term experiences of an illness, and with treatment and/or supports will recover. Others may have ongoing experiences of an illness over many years, where they have periods of being well, along with periods of being unwell. With treatment and support, many people identify and understand the emotional and psychological triggers, and learn to minimise the risk of exposure to these triggers and the subsequent decline into a state of illness.  

The concept of “recovery” in relation to mental illness does not simply mean that the person gets better and never has the illness again. It can mean that a person recovers the ability to successfully function in everyday life. Although they may continue to experience symptoms of the illness, they manage these symptoms with supports and treatment plans which allow them to live the life roles and experiences that they have chosen. 

Even someone with long term mental illness does not have to passively exist with the impacts. Many people live functional, purposeful lives AND experience mental illness simultaneously. Mental health is a part of health, and sits on the general health continuum.  Mental illness is treated just as any other illness, as we introduce proactive strategies to reduce our risks, and ways to manage times of illness with appropriate resources and supports.

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How to respond - general guidelines

These guidelines are set of general instructions for assisting someone who appears to have a mental health issue. Further information can be found at the Mental Health First Aid website.
  • Create a non-threatening atmosphere. Invite the person to sit with you. Reduce distractions.
  • Listen non-judgmentally. Express empathy for emotional distress, use encouraging prompts and do not interrupt the person when they are speaking. Pauses and silences are okay.
  • As you talk with the person, be on the lookout for any indications that the person may be in crisis. These may include disturbing behaviour, psychotic state or expressions of self-harm or suicide. Refer to the Mental Health Crisis Flow Chart for further information.
  • Give support and information. Reassure the person that you are there to help and support them. Assure them that help is available and things can get better.
  • Try to find out what type of assistance they need. Ask who or what will help them. If possible, offer them choices as to how you can help them. Do not make any promises you cannot keep.
  • Encourage supports from family and friends. Offer to contact family or friends if required. Offer to stay with them until support arrives.
  • Encourage professional support, whether on campus or their own medical practitioner. Assist with making appointments if needed. See the resources page for what is available.

The UWA Counselling website provides guidance on how to help students who you may be concerned about.

Managers should consult the specific guidance provided on how to support employees.   

On campus training is also available for staff and students to provide details of the signs and symptoms of, and management strategies for, common mental health issues, as well as guidance on how to assist someone showing signs or symptoms.

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Key points to note

  • Not all people with mental illness will experience symptoms or functional impacts which are obvious to others. 
  • Not all employees will want to disclose their mental health issues or illness in the workplace. 
  • Not all employees with mental illness will require workplace adjustments.
  • A person’s illness may fluctuate in terms of symptoms and functional impacts, and as such workplace responses need to be flexible as well.
  • Employees with mental illness do not always require time off work to recover. Many can continue to work very well while recovering.
  • The types of treatment that a person chooses for their mental illness is just as individual as the illness itself. Respect people’s right to self-determination.
  • A mental illness is not an intellectual disability.
  • Mental illness is common in our community and as such you will likely have some employees with mental health problems without ever knowing it. 
  • Stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness is still common in our community and can make people reluctant to disclose their experiences and to seek help. Fostering an environment of respect where mental health is spoken of in preventative and responsive occupational safety and health terms, just as physical health is, can assist with this.