If you’ve been dropping the ball at work, turning up late, making simple errors and feeling emotional, you’re not alone. In fact, a recent Galaxy Poll found that at any time, 19.7 per cent of Australians feel anxiety, 16.3 per cent experience depression and 27.3 per cent are stressed.
Medibank aims to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians by acknowledging the important role workplaces play.
Just like physical health, mental health affects us all. We all experience times when we struggle with it a bit more than others. In fact, research indicates 1 in 5 of us have experienced a mental health condition in the last twelve months, and almost half of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our life.
A recent Galaxy Poll found that at any time 19.7 per cent of Australian workers feel anxiety, 16.3 per cent experience depression and 27.3 per cent are stressed. And data also shows the incidence of mental health issues are rising. The number of Australians living with anxiety, for example, has “increased significantly” since 2011, with rates rising more than eight per cent to a total of 3,747,000 people. Depression and anxiety – the two most common mental health conditions – can have a serious effect on your productivity and ability to concentrate on the task at hand.
Performing at work while also managing mental health conditions is a nuanced and challenging experience. You might become easily irritated or upset by customers or changes to your routine, worry more about work than is usual, struggle to be productive throughout the day or lack quality sleep. You might feel flat or burnt out, find it hard to concentrate or even struggle to get out of bed in the morning.You need to raise the issue with your boss if your mental health is affecting your ability to do your job, even if that feels scary.
Given the prevalence of mental health conditions in Australia, asking for time off work or raising the subject with our boss really shouldn’t be a big deal. While we take days off work without question for something like a broken arm, taking sick leave to treat depression or anxiety is a whole other story.
For many reasons, mental health is still a taboo in the workplace.
It isn’t easy knowing how to best deal with mental health condition while also maintaining your cool at work. Should you inform your manager, or just put your head down and continue with the daily grind? Should you ‘chuck a sickie’ or inform your employer you’re taking a ‘mental health day’?
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS FIRST
Telling your boss about your current situation is a personal choice – if your mental health condition does not affect your ability to do your job, you’re under no legal obligation to do so.
Being honest might be the best approach for both employees and employers, experts say.
“You need to raise the issue with your boss if your mental health is affecting your ability to do your job, even if that feels scary,” says psychologist Lana Hall, from Sage & Sound.
“Most workplaces have become more supportive and aware of mental health concerns. Telling your boss you’re struggling shows them you’re committed to the job – rather than [having] your actions and mood interpreted as being related to not liking or valuing your job anymore.”
Most professional workplaces have a policy to include mental health as part of sick days which should be taken advantage of if you need them. All Australian workplaces must practice anti-discrimination laws which means they’re obliged to make reasonable changes to support you to do your job. They also have a legal responsibility to maintain your privacy.
TALK WITH A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
The prospect of speaking with your employer about your mental health might seem like an impossible prospect. While a discussion of this kind might feel awkward, there are some ways you can make it easier.
Hall recommends the first step for anyone struggling to cope with their mental health is to see a health professional like a GP or psychologist. She says there’s no such thing as being “bad enough” to warrant help.
“See a professional early on, please. Let the GP or psychologist decide if you’re ‘bad enough’. Like any problem or illness, early detection makes for an easier fix,” she says.
Chatting about your current situation can help you understand what you’re going through and what support is available. They might recommend simple lifestyle changes that could improve your mental health as well as some therapies that might be available. Your GP or psychologist might also provide guidance around how you should navigate the conversation with your manager should you decide to go ahead with it.
Of course, all workplaces will offer different levels of support which will play a key factor in making your decision. Similarly, whether you choose to disclose might also depend on your relationship with your line manager. If you think your manager or workplace won’t be supportive or receptive to the conversation, you might choose not to discuss it, opting for healthcare support instead. A health professional can help you weigh up the pros and cons of discussing your mental health with your boss. The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance also has a pros and cons tool you can use on their website.
START THE CONVERSATION
If you do decide to raise the topic with your manager, it’s best to book a private meeting in a space you feel comfortable in. Before the chat, work out how much information you want to share. Do you want to divulge an exact diagnosis or would you prefer to let your boss know you might be a little off sometimes? Do you want them to be aware of how your work conditions are affecting your mental health issues? Would you like to ask for some extended time off?
It’s completely up to you how much you share, but you should think carefully about the conversation before you meet.
OPENNESS AND COLLABORATION IN THE WORKPLACE
Medibank’s chief medical officer Dr Linda Swan says mental health awareness has come a long way in the last 10 years.
“It can benefit everyone if managers encourage an open dialogue on the topic with their employees,” she says.
A happy workplace is a productive one, so it’s in your employers’ best interest to take an active role in supporting their staff. If you feel comfortable, establishing a culture of openness and collaboration could help tackle the toxic culture of silence.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit Beyond Blue or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.