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Mental Health in the Workplace


Mental health impacts how we behave, feel, think and relate to others. When it comes to mental health, none of us are exempt. In fact, almost half of all Australians aged 16-85 will experience mental illness at some point in their life, according to the Australian Government Department of Health.

For most of us, work plays a significant role in our lives and subsequently our mental health. It’s a place where we spend a lot of our time, energy and emotion, where we get our income from and where we develop relationships of all different natures.

Unfortunately, workplace factors like stress or bullying can have a negative impact on an employees’ mental health. If this impact is severe and prolonged, it may develop into a psychological injury and prevent the sufferer from completing their usual work.

If you think you’ve suffered a psychological injury due to work, Shine Lawyers can help you access workers’ compensation to help you recover.

Psychological injury definition

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.

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

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 – extreme temperatures or dangerous location
  • Equipment – insufficient availability, inadequate type or in poor working condition
  • Accidents – either suffered personally or witnessed.

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. Workers in high-risk industries, such as police officers, emergency workers and teachers, are more likely to suffer a psychological injury like workplace PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Whether or not you work in a high-risk industry, if your job causes you severe anxiety, you believe your depression is from work or you’re having panic attacks at work, you may have a work-related psychological injury. If you have experienced any of these symptoms it’s important you talk to your doctor first to gain professional medical advice. A doctor will be not only be able to determine what psychological injury you have, such as PTSD from work, but provide further options for treatment.

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 workers’ compensation claim. The below image will give you a general idea of what to do next:

Workers-Compensation-Claims-Process

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 may be legally protected from unlawful discrimination at work. 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, our Employment Law team offer expert legal advice. Our Employment Rights Checker can in minutes determine whether you have a potential discrimination claim against your employer.

Disclosing mental illness to your 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.

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 productivity:

  • Plan out your day with achievable goals.
  • Communicate with your colleagues and/or manager.
  • Take breaks to refresh.
  • Ask for help when needed – talk to your manager, or your HR team or Employee Assistance program.
  • Consider applying for a flexible work arrangement.

Help and support

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

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 make a claim.

You can check whether you’ve a claim, either online or over the phone, by using the claim checker tool below.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: October 6, 2021.

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