Working with poor mental health

Poor mental health is very common.

Around 1 in 2 people in Australia will struggle with their mental health at some stage. Many will experience times of poor mental health while working. It's likely you’ll know people at work with poor mental health – even if you're not aware of it.

Working can help people get better and stay well.
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Mental health benefits of good work

Good work is good for your mental health. It can help your sense of purpose, connect you to others, provide income and daily activity.

Good work can also help during periods of poor mental health. During such times, reasonable adjustments to your work may help you to stay at work and recover.

Supporting people with poor mental health to work can help them. It also helps other workers, the community and the economy.

Learn more about mentally healthy work.

How working with poor mental health can feel

At work, telling someone that you're experiencing poor mental health can be hard.

You might feel:

  • unsure how others might respond
  • a sense of shame
  • nervous that your performance has dropped 
  • unclear about the benefits of telling someone at work
  • worry about losing your job or future opportunities 
  • that some parts of your work are causing or adding to stress

If you feel this way, consider:

Deciding whether to disclose at work

You might be unsure about whether it’s in your best interests to tell someone at work about your mental health. It can be helpful to weigh up the pros and cons.

Everyone's situation is unique. There are common factors that can be useful to consider in making your decision.

These factors include:

  • access to additional support
  • access to flexibility or reasonable adjustments to help you get better 
  • if your work performance is impacted
  • how people at your work are likely to receive the news
  • your work relationships. 

A decision tool can help you decide

Using a disclosure decision tool can help you decide whether and how you can tell people at work about your mental health.

Visit the Mentally Healthy Workplaces website to learn about and access a confidential disclosure decision tool.

You’ll be asked to answer a series of questions. Then you’ll be presented with options that can help you decide whether and how to tell people at work about your mental health.

Circumstances that mean you must disclose at work

If your mental health possibly compromises the safety of yourself or someone else, you have a responsibility to let your manager know. Your employer has a responsibility to protect your privacy if you do share.

Learn more about this right to privacy on the Fair Work Ombudsman website

Working with poor mental health

If you’re working with poor mental health, there are things that can help.

Adopt personal support strategies

Developing a workplace wellbeing plan can help you to stay well at work. It will help you identify your personal warning signs and the coping strategies that work for you.

Download Beyond Blue’s personal Wellbeing Action Tool

Learn more about your mental health at work


Make reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes that help you to stay at work or return to work.

Workers with poor mental health have anti-discrimination protections. These include an obligation on employers to offer reasonable adjustments.

Learn more about your rights and obligations at work

Examples of reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments could be:
  • adding flexibility to your working hours
  • providing time off for appointments 
  • making changes to your shifts 
  • making changes to the location of your work 
  • adjusting your workspace
  • setting goals, reminders and checklists to help manage your time and workload
  • reducing your workload or the time you spend on certain tasks
  • providing mentoring, coaching or peer support at work
  • changing tasks that are stressful or overwhelming
  • providing you with training and support. 

Clear and regular communication

While you’re working, it can help to:
  • meet regularly with your manager
  • work with your manager to create realistic goals and clear expectations
  • give your manager regular updates on how you’re going
  • catch up regularly with someone you trust to talk about things
  • ask for adjustments to your role where necessary
  • communicate your needs so others know how to support you
  • If you’re on a break from work but planning to return, it can help to:
  • catch up regularly with your manager to stay connected to work
  • let your manager know if you want visits, calls or emails from workmates.
Your employer might have other responsibilities with your return to work if you’ve been away because of a compensation claim.

Develop a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan

Sometimes, it may be helpful to work with your manager to develop a plan. This helps to make clear the agreed strategies and actions that can help you. It also outlines what supports are in place to assist you.

Your workplace may have a template you can use. Otherwise, you can download this template, which outlines a basic return-to-work-plan.

You can also download this return-to-work/stay-at-work discussion plan.

It provides discussion points that may be helpful for you and your manager when you're developing a plan.

Supporting someone to return to (or stay) at work

If someone is experiencing poor mental health at your work, being supportive of them is important. It can help people to feel better, recover, and help build a healthy workplace for all.

If you manage someone with poor mental health, consider developing a plan to help them return to or stay at work.

Download Plan
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When you’re supporting someone with poor mental health, it’s important to look after your own wellbeing.

Learn how to look after your mental health and wellbeing as a supporter
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