A Guide To Handling Your Mental Health At Work

The stats show that 1 in 5 of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our lifetime. So, how do we manage mental health while keeping things in check in the workplace? Chloe Papas finds out.

It can be tough to know what to do if you’re dealing with mental health stuff while trying to maintain a cool composure at work. Depression and anxiety – the two most common mental health conditions – can affect your ability to concentrate, be productive, communicate effectively, and sometimes to want to get out of bed at all. So how do you deal with your workload while trying to manage your symptoms or seek treatment? Should you tell your manager, or just try to slug it out?

I spoke with Nick Arvanitis from Beyondblue about the ins and outs of mental health in the workplace, the legal stuff, and everything in between. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re juggling a mental health condition and trying to maintain a healthy working life.

Should you tell your boss?

The legal stuff: When it comes to telling your boss or manager about your mental health condition, you legally only need to discuss it with them if your condition could affect workplace health and safety. “So for example, if you are operating heavy machinery and your anxiety impairs your concentration, that means you might present a risk in the workplace,” says Nick. That goes for physical health too.

You also have to legally tell your employer that you have a mental condition if they ask you outright whether there is anything that might affect your ability to do your job. “There is an obligation on you to say yes,” says Nick. “You don’t need to go into specifics, but you do need to say that you have a health condition and that it’s impacting on your ability to fulfil the requirements of the job.”

The personal: If your mental health isn’t a risk to the workplace, discussing it with your employer comes down to personal choice. “Some of the things you might think about are whether your manager will be supportive, and if your condition is impacting on your ability to do the job.” If you know that your manager won’t be supportive, if the workplace culture isn’t open and respectful, or if the condition isn’t affecting your work at all, you might choose not to discuss it. Beyondblue have a handy tool to help you weigh up the pros and cons.

If you think that your manager will be supportive, it can be helpful to let them know – for your own sake and theirs. “If an employee does have a mental health condition then the employer is required to make reasonable adjustments for that person, modifications to their role to enable them to fulfil their requirements.”


What do you want from the conversation?

If you have decided to have a chat to your boss or manager about whatever it is that you’re dealing with, make sure you don’t go in guns blazing – back it up a little and think about what you want. “We would encourage you to discuss the issue with a friend or family member, or even a trusted colleague before you have the talk,” says Nick. Are you hoping to simply make your boss aware that you might be a little off sometimes? Do you want to chat to them about reducing your hours, changing your role, or taking a bit of time off?

What if your mental health issues are being caused by your workplace?

There are a number of different pathways to go down here, and it all depends on your personal circumstances. In a situation where it’s your workload, colleagues or a combo of the two that is causing you stress, you might feel comfortable going to your manager or employer about the problems. “In an ideal situation, your manager will talk to you openly and work with you to modify the role and give you some flexibility,” says Nick.

If things get serious, making a formal complaint of going down the route of worker’s compensation are other options. Just remember, it’s on your employer and managers to provide a safe and open workplace. “People are essentially struggling in silence, and as an employer if you’re not encouraging your staff to be open and share with a trusted manager, effectively you are going to have some staff members who will be working but not as productive as they could be,” says Nick.

What if you have the chat – and it doesn’t go to plan?

In a lovely and ideal world, you’ll have the chat with your manager and they will be incredibly supportive and flexible. Hooray! But, if things don’t quite go to plan and your manager doesn’t take it well, or you feel like they are being discriminatory, there are a few places you can go for advice or help.

  • Chat to your state-based workplace health and safety regulator about your rights (you can find a list here)
  • Make a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission if your employer is being openly discriminatory
  • Check out the resources on mentally healthy workplaces at Beyondblue’s Heads Up website
  • Contact Beyondblue or Lifeline for mental health support


Chloe Papas is a journalist and writer based in Victoria. You can find her on Twitter @chloepapas