Mental health support in the workplace


What do employees say about their workplace mental health support? What can organisations do to foster good mental health at work?

Mindful Employer asked employees across Australia to tell us about mental health support in their workplaces. Their responses reveal a stark gap between a real desire for management to support good health and the capacity to deliver what’s needed.

87% of respondents said improving workplace mental health was important to their organisation

However, when asked if they believed their organisation could respond to someone with a mental illness in a supportive way, only 55% said yes.

82% believed employees in their organisation should be able to respond effectively to a mental health issue at work

However, 55% said employees did not understand their legal obligations to a colleague with respect to the privacy, discrimination and disability legislation indicating a high risk of exposure for many organisations.

68% said stigma was a barrier to their workplace achieving better mental health outcomes

72% felt that self-stigma — an individual’s negative feelings about their own experience — was an even greater barrier.

78% said mental health was a consideration for the people in the organisation dealing with health and safety

However, only 29% said their organisation had an employee engagement strategy for improving workplace mental health.

52% said their organisation has a person or department to support managers to respond effectively to mental health concerns

Roles and departments providing that support included HR, Health and Wellness, OHS, Rehabilitation team and the organisation’s EAP provider.

48% said part of their professional role was to improve workplace mental health outcomes

However, more than a third (36%) said mental health was not on the agenda of senior management and more than half (53%) said their organisation was not taking a preventative approach to workplace mental health.

Many respondents suggested that a lack of discussion and direction was the cause of this absence.

“It’s not discussed”

“It’s hidden, so there’s no support”

“There’s no strategy, programs or initiatives”

“Mental health is not prioritised”

“Mental health is stigmatised”

44% said managers in their organisation were not able to respond effectively to mental health concerns

Those who answered no were then asked to provide more details. Respondents described workplaces where knowledge and training, rather than motivation, were the obstacles.

“Lack of knowledge and understanding”

“Lack of training or skills to respond effectively”

“Mental health is not prioritised”

What can organisations do?

Respondents provided a range of suggestions about what their organisation could do to support good workplace mental health.The most commonly provided suggestions were:

  • Prioritising mental health equally with other health and safety issues
  • Acknowledging that mental health is something organisations can influence
  • Education and demystification around mental health to reduce stigma
  • Better understanding of mental health throughout the organisation
  • Improved HR processes to help employees raise their mental health in a safe, non-judgemental way
  • Better training and support services
  • Providing a safe work place for workers — maintaining a good relationship with them and providing a place where they want to stay long term

Next steps

SANE Australia’s Mindful Employer program provides training and support to help organisations bridge the gap between the desire and the capacity to deliver good workplace mental health. To commit your organisation to supporting better workplace mental health, sign the Mindful Employer Charter and take part in SANE@Work, Mindful Employer's Mental Health Week 2016 program.

Sarah Earnshaw