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Mental Health in the Workplace

Your mental health impacts how you feel, think, behave and relate to others. According to the Australian Government Department of Health, almost half of all Australians aged 16-85 will experience mental illness at some point in their life. While this could be due to a number of different reasons, it highlights the importance of doing what we can to care for our mental health.

For most of us, work plays a significant role in our lives – it is where we spend a lot of our time, energy and emotion, where we get our income and where we develop relationships of all different natures. This makes it vital to our general wellbeing to understand how to manage your mental health at work.

Looking after your mental health at work

Stress, in varying levels, is a common part of work life; whether due to the nature of your role, workload, relationships or other factors. Here are some tips to help you minimise your stress at work and maximise your positive productivity:

  • Plan out your day with achievable goals – be intentional with managing your time and realistic with what you can achieve on that day. If you have bigger projects, break them down into smaller tasks and tick things off as you go.
  • Communicate with your colleagues and/or manager – this is a good way of overcoming roadblocks, de-briefing after an incident and sharing the mental load. If you’re not comfortable talking about your feelings with someone at work, try instead a trusted friend or family member.
  • Stay focused – if you find it hard to stay focused at work (whether from background noise or your colleagues’ conversations) try listening to music or other white noise (like a soundtrack of the ocean, storm or crackling fireplace). This can be a good way to help you relax, block out distracting noise and focus on the task at hand.
  • Take breaks – it can be easy to skip breaks or meal times if you have a lot of meetings, significant workload or tight deadlines however, by taking a break you allow yourself the chance to rest and reset, which can help to boost your productivity.
  • Ask for help – we all get tired, stressed and overwhelmed, so make sure you speak up when it’s getting to be too much. Your manager may be able to reduce your workload, re-assign tasks, provide assistance or help you to access an employee assistance program (if your workplace offers one).
  • Consider your work arrangements – a full-time, five days-a-week job isn’t for everyone. If your current set-up isn’t working for you and your life, talk to your manager about a potential flexible work arrangement.
  • Plan time in your day for “me time” – whether before or after work or during your lunch break, set aside time to recharge and not think about work. Pick an activity that will help you to unwind, whether it’s time with family or friends, exercising, a hobby or watching your favourite show.
  • Exercise – you’ve probably heard this before, but exercising is a good way to reduce stress and clear your head as it gets your body’s natural feel-good hormones pumping (in addition to the obvious physical benefits).

So what happens when work-related stress turns into something more and you suffer a psychological injury at work or because of work?

What is a psychological injury?

A psychological injury, or mental injury, includes cognitive, emotional and/or behavioural symptoms that can impact a person’s life; which includes affecting how they think, feel, behave and interact with others. Some common psychological injuries include depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A work-related psychological injury can be caused by organisational, environmental or individual factors.

Organisational factors:

  • Poor levels of support or communication from your superiors
  • Conflict with your manager or another colleague
  • Inadequate processes or training programs
  • Unattainable performance expectations
  • Being sexually harassed, bullied or assaulted at work

Environmental factors:

  • Working conditions
  • Equipment – insufficient availability, inadequate type or in poor working condition
  • Accidents

Individual factors:

  • Your personality
  • Past experiences

It’s important to note that while all jobs come with varying degrees of stress at times, psychological injury is more likely to occur when the stress has a high frequency, duration or as a result of a significant event.

What should I do if I’ve sustained a psychological injury at work?

If you have sustained a psychological injury at work or because of your work, you may be able to make a worker’s compensation claim. The below image will give you a general idea of what to do next:


It’s important that you seek medical help and advice as soon you are able. If you don’t, it can be more difficult to get the proper support and may impact your claim for compensation.

Mental illness and your rights at work

If you have a mental illness, or are working through a psychological injury, you are protected from unlawful discrimination at work by the Fair Work Act. This means your employer is not allowed to take adverse action against you on the basis of a mental health problem or disability.

Some examples of adverse action can include:

  • Unfair dismissal
  • Allowing, or not actively preventing you from getting injured
  • Altering your job position or responsibilities to your detriment
  • Discriminating between you and your colleagues
  • Refusing to pay you

If you think you have been discriminated against because of your mental health, it is recommended that you seek expert legal advice. It’s important to remember though, that actions taken by your employer which impact your job aren’t always discrimination. Under the Fair Work Act, it is not discrimination if the actions are allowed under the relevant anti-discrimination law, or if they are based on the necessary requirements of your job.

Do I need to disclose mental health issues to my employer?

You are not legally required to tell your employer about your mental health, unless it is relevant to your role or there is a risk to you or others (e.g. your ability to make decisions or operate machinery).

If you decide to talk with your employer about your mental health, it then allows them to consider making changes to your role to help you keep working, as well as maintaining your privacy and protecting you from any discrimination.

If you sustain a work-related psychological injury, it is advisable to discuss this with your employer (and document those discussions), otherwise it can make lodging a claim for compensation difficult down the track.

Help and support

If you need help in dealing with a mental health issue, there are many resources and support services available to you:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue: 1800 512 348
  • SANE Australia: 1800 187 263
  • Or you can consult an organisation like Mental Health Australia which provides a directory of support services that specialise in all different areas.

Shine Lawyers – we’re here to help

If you or a loved one are suffering from a psychological injury that occurred at work or caused by work, Shine Lawyers may be able to help. Our expert team of workers compensation lawyers can help you to understand your rights and entitlements and to make a claim for compensation. Get in touch today for an obligation-free consultation.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: September 9, 2020.

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