An estimated 45% of working-age Australians (16-85) will experience a mental health condition at least once in their lifetime. As well as being a major threat to employee wellbeing, mental illness is the leading cause of long-term absenteeism and presenteeism (loss of productivity whilst at work).
Understanding and recognising common mental health issues has become an essential component of good people management. This article is therefore designed to help you, as an employer or human resources manager, better recognise the most common types of mental health issues affecting working Australians.
Our 2 Main Tips
The two most important elements of good mental health awareness is to:
BE WARY OF CHANGING BEHAVIOUR: Recognise when changes take place in the behaviour of your colleagues or staff. Unexpected behaviour or responses are often indicative of underlying mental health problems.
RU OK?: Listen carefully to the verbal cues that your staff give you, and take them seriously. Check in with your staff at regular intervals to check they are feeling ok.
Anxiety is our country’s leading mental health issue, affecting 1 in 4 working Australians.
Types of Anxiety Disorders include:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – feeling anxious on most days over a period of six months or more.
- Panic Disorder – Recurrent panic attacks (uncontrollable feelings of anxiety with a range of physical symptoms) and/or persistent fear of having panic attacks for more than one month.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – Extreme anxiety in social situations due to intense fear of being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated.
- Specific Phobias – Extreme fear and avoidance of a particular object or situation.
Other conditions where anxiety is present include:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Intrusive thoughts and fears that cause anxiety (obsessions), with attempts to relieve the anxiety by carrying out certain compulsive behaviours or rituals.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Anxiety, intrusive nightmares, flashbacks, and avoidance persisting at least one month after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.
Recognising Anxiety in your Workplace
Look out for the following indicators of clinical anxiety:
- Appearing restless, tense and on edge.
- Avoiding workplace activities (e.g. staff meetings).
- Becoming overwhelmed or upset easily.
- Difficulty making decisions.
- Difficulty meeting reasonable deadlines.
- Constantly worried or apprehensive.
- Having panic attacks (heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, shaking).
Following anxiety, depression is our second most prevalent mental health issue, affecting 1 in 7 Australians. Depression is characterised by persistent low mood and a lack of interest or pleasure in daily life for two weeks or more.
Recognising Depression in your Workplace
Depression can be difficult to recognise because it can be subtly expressed and easy to hide. However, many of the following symptoms are indicative of a depressive episode and should be taken seriously:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Frequent absenteeism or lateness.
- Loss of motivation and/or enthusiasm.
- Increasing frequency of sick days.
- Trouble meeting reasonable deadlines.
- Difficulty accepting constructive feedback.
- Making statements of self-worthlessness.
- Changes in social behaviour (including becoming more withdrawn or more outspoken).
- Increased consumption of alcohol or other substances
- Subtle verbal hints or cues that their mood is low or that they are unhappy.
Substance Use Disorders (Drugs & Alcohol)
Substance Use Disorders are characterised by problematic drug or alcohol use, and affect 5% of Australians. Substance Use Disorders are also closely related to other mental health disorders; 1 in 3 Australians with a Substance Use Disorder meet the criteria for an Anxiety Disorder, and 1 in 5 meet the criteria for a Mood Disorder (Depression etc).
Diagnostic criteria for Substance Use Disorders include:
- Impaired control over substance use.
- Reduced involvement in social, occupational or recreational activities due to preoccupation with substance use.
- Continued use despite physical or psychological harm.
- Developing a tolerance to the substance.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms with discontinued substance use.
Recognising Substance Use Disorders in the Workplace
In a workplace context, keep your eye out for extensive or repeated social drinking, or unusual behaviour. Other signs to watch out for include:
- Loss of motivation.
- Seeming irritable, anxious or aggressive.
- Excessive social drinking
- Not having enough money.
- Getting in trouble with the law.
- Losing or gaining weight.
- Poor self-care/hygiene.
- Appearing intoxicated.
There are a range of mental health issues which are categorised as psychotic disorders or might cause the patient to experience psychotic disorders from time to time during the course of their illness. These include:
- Bi-Polar Disorder (in cases where mania and psychotic symptoms are present)
- Schizoaffective disorders (where schizophrenic symptoms are present together with a mood disorder such as depression)
- Delusional disorders
Recognising Psychosis in the Workplace
Psychotic disorders often start with subtle, hard to pin down changes in a person’s behaviour, thinking or permanently, but may quickly move on to the quite severe and obvious symptoms of delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (sensing things that are not real or hearing voices). In a workplace context, be aware of some of the following symptoms:
- Being suspicious of other colleagues.
- Unusal degree of pre-occupation with a particular subject
- Speaking in a flat, monotone voice.
- Having poor or no eye contact.
- Speech or writing that is muddled, fast, irrational or doesn’t make sense.
- Loss of concentration, memory or attention.
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Increase in reckless aggressive behaviour
- Difficulty planning and carrying out work tasks.
- Becoming withdrawn.
- Acting in an odd manner (e.g. wearing inappropriate clothes, talking to themselves,inappropriate emotional responses).
Improving Mental Health Awareness in your Workplace
Our Mental Health Awareness course is a short workshop designed to give you, your managers and your staff a better understanding of the common mental health issues, what to look out for, and how to respond. Our program can be offered on-site over lunch or at any time convenient to you. Contact our Corporate Services Director to find out more.