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Psychological health

Psychological health issues can have a significant negative impact on individuals and the workplace.

At any given time, approximately 1 in 5 Australian workers is likely to be experiencing a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

Our work health and safety laws define ‘health’ as including psychological health. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must consider the psychological health and wellbeing of workers in the same way they do physical health. Like all other work health and safety hazards, it needs to be managed.

Everyone else in a workplace also has a responsibility for their own health and safety, both psychological and physical, and to ensure that their mental health and wellbeing does not create a risk to their personal or anyone else’s health and safety.

Good business sense

Work-related psychological injury is expensive. It’s estimated that poor psychological health and safety costs Australian workplaces $6 billion per annum in lost productivity. This is primarily because psychological injuries typically require three times more time off work than other injuries. Workplaces with poor psychological working conditions also accrue 43% more sick days per month.

Businesses that create and promote mentally healthy workplaces will benefit from improved productivity, performance and staff retention, and be perceived as an employer of choice. For every $1 spent on mental health initiatives, there’s an average return on investment of $2.30.

Addressing the risks

PCBUs can often be confused about their responsibilities when it comes to psychological health and safety. They want to know how to address both their legal obligations and the risks, and to learn about best practice solutions and practices.

Safe Work Australia’s authoritative guide Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties describes how to build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace by identifying, assessing and controlling risks to workers’ mental health. It gives a step-by-step process for managing psychological injury, intervening early and taking preventative action to stop workers becoming ill or sustaining a psychological injury.

A companion fact sheet provides information for PCBUs and workers on how to address psychological injury risks.

There’s also a presentation you can watch from the Virtual Seminar Series where Dr Peta Miller discusses the drivers for the new national guidance material (run time approx 30 minutes).

Mentally healthy workplaces

A mentally healthy workplace protects and promotes the psychological health of everyone at work by:

  • having a positive workplace culture
  • minimising psychosocial hazards such as: 
    • bullying and conflict
    • fatigue
    • work-related violence
    • stressful working conditions
  • supporting people with mental health conditions appropriately
  • reducing stigma and discrimination.

Safety solutions

Identify psychological health hazards through one-on-one discussions with your workers, personal observations and reviewing past incidents. Ensure you check for inherent risks in your workplace by looking at systems of work design and management, before complementing with health and wellbeing programs. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are individual job demands and has the level changed recently?
  • Do any workers have too low a level of control/ autonomy in their daily duties?
  • Have you provided sufficient support to your workers (management, training, resources, employee assistance program)?
  • Do workers have good relationships at work?
  • Have you clarified job descriptions appropriately?
  • Have you communicated and managed any business changes effectively?
  • Are workers remunerated and recognised adequately?
  • Are you treating all workers fairly?

Control any identified risks through:

  • matching jobs to skills
  • setting reasonable and achievable timeframes for work, in consultation with workers
  • clearly defining job roles and scope of the work
  • providing flexible working arrangements and considering work/life balance
  • engaging workers in decision-making and providing regular feedback on performance
  • ensuring support systems are in place for workers
  • linking workers to employee assistance programs.

Maintain and review control measures to ensure their effectiveness, in particular when a psychological injury occurs or before making change.

Mentally healthy worker initiatives and services

Many resources and support services are available to help you protect and promote psychological health in your workplace.

  • Australian Human Rights Commission’s Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers

    provides information on how to appropriately support workers with mental illness and how to develop and promote a safe and healthy work environment for all workers.

  • beyondblue

    provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.

  • Black Dog Institute

    workplace mental health and wellbeing programs help to create a work environments that promote mental wellbeing, increased worker engagement and greater productivity.

  • Department of Health

    has made the search for mental health services and resources easier by handpicking resources from publicly funded providers.

  • Heads Up

    a national campaign to support and create mentally healthy workplaces, with resources for employers, workers, managers and small business owners.

    The Mental health in the workplace toolbox training package is a free resource that includes a 90-minute training session delivered by a nominated professional or educator to team leaders and managers who are then equipped to deliver mental health toolbox talks to their team.

  • headspace

    is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, and provides early intervention mental health services for young Australians aged 12-25 years.

  • MATES in Construction

    is helping reduce the high level of suicide within the Australian construction industry.

  • Mental health services in Australia

    provides a picture of the national response of the health and welfare system to the mental health care needs of Australians.

  • The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance

    is a national approach by business, community and government encouraging Australian workplaces to become mentally healthy.

  • SANE Australia

    is a national charity helping Australians affected by mental illness and provides resources to help employers respond to workplace mental health issues.

  • Suicide Prevention Australia

    provides national leadership for the meaningful reduction of suicide in Australia.

  • World Health Organization

    for the latest international information, publications, statistics and more about mental health.

In case of emergency

GPs can also refer you to specialist psychologist services, such as a Mental Health Shared Care Plan.

Further resources can be accessed from our Library catalogue.