Five tips to make your workplace more understanding on World Bipolar Day


Despite improved community understanding of anxiety and depression, other illnesses - such as bipolar disorder - are often misunderstood. This lack of awareness and understanding can leave people living with a mental illness feeling isolated, unable to speak out, or ask for help.

So on Monday 30th March here are some tips to improve your understanding of mental illness:

1. Experiencing mental illness is common

In any given year 20%, or 1 in 5 people of working age will have a mental illness. This includes well known illnesses such as anxiety and depression, as well as the lesser known bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. While you may not know it, you will have encountered mental illness somewhere in your life; a friend, family member, loved one or colleague in the workplace.

2. Mental illness does not discriminate

Mental health concerns are not age, race, religion or class-biased. This is the same with mental illness – anyone can experience an illness at some point in their life. It is nothing to be scared of, rather it is better to be aware of the facts and know where we can seek help.

3. Education is important

Take some time to understand the impact of bipolar disorder on individuals and carers. SANE Australia’s factsheet about bipolar disorder provides information on the illness and some common symptoms a person may experience. If you work with someone living with bipolar disorder, don’t be afraid to ask your colleague about their symptoms. This is a powerful way to learn and understand an illness.

4. Mental illness does not define a person, it’s a health condition

A person who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is someone who is experiencing an illness, not someone labeled by it. Be mindful not to define a person by their illness, or dismiss what they can offer your organisation. A good approach is to consider what a person can do, rather than focus on what they cannot do. While workplace adjustments may be required at times, building on a person’s strengths increases their workplace contribution and improves productivity.

5. Seek support

The more comfortable we are around mental health in the workplace, the easier it is to help people we may be concerned about. Being open allows us to listen to what a colleague tells us and link the person in with support they may need, early. You can always ask workplace Employee Assistance Providers or your Human Resources department for further information on how to start a conversation around mental health in the workplace.

With better education and improved understanding we can support colleagues who are managing a mental illness, helping them live a productive life and creating a mentally healthy workplace.

For more information about Mindful Employer, call us on (03) 9682 5933

SANE Australia – helping all Australians affected by mental illness lead a better life.

Sarah Earnshaw