Key Workplace Mental Health Research

workplace mental health

Managing workplace mental health has business under considerable pressure to stem the rising tide of staff in decline. What are the key workplace mental health issues? As a health and safety and well-being professional how do you keep up with the latest research and innovative ideas? In a recent blog post we distilled all the research posts written for the year on key workplace health and safety issues into one condensed post linking back to all the critical information via the full published posts. That was obviously greatly appreciated by our readership as indicated by the opens, click-throughs and likes.  We thought we might do the same for you on all the research we’ve reported on this year on workplace mental health.

How Many of Your Staff Are Affected by Mental Illness?

Globally, the total number of people living with depression is estimated at 322 million. The total number of people living with anxiety globally is estimated at 264 million. These are astounding numbers that shows that mental illness has increased by almost 18.4% (depression) and 15% (anxiety) in the last 10 years. Depression and anxiety are more common among females (4.6%) than males (2.6%). Depression rates peak in older adulthood (above 7.5% among females aged 55-74 years, and above 5.5% among males). The good news is the older you get, the lower the prevalence of anxiety, with 35-49 year old women most at risk. In America the highest rates of anxiety are recorded.  WHO estimates that 7.7% of the female population suffer from anxiety.

Suicide accounted for almost 1.5% of all deaths worldwide, bringing it into the top 20 leading causes of death in 2015. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally in 2015.

The suicide rate for males in the US is 17.7 per 100, 000 population and for females is 4.5 per 100, 000 population. In the US, neuropsychiatric disorders are estimated to contribute to 30.9% of the global burden of disease (WHO, 2008).

For deaths registered in 2016 in the UK, persons aged 40 to 44 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate at 15.3 per 100,000. This age group also had the highest rate among males at 24.1 per 100,000, whilst females aged 50 to 54 years had the highest rate at 8.3 per 100,000.

In Australia, the suicide rate for males is 16.7 per 100,000 population and for females is 4.4 per 100,000 population. Neuropsychiatric disorders are estimated to contribute to 29.4% of the global burden of disease (WHO, 2008).

In Australia, 3 million people have anxiety and/or depression, 200 people attempt suicide every day, with 8 people taking their own lives and 25% attempting it again when they don’t succeed. Beyond Blue also note that 50% of people suffering depression don’t seek help and of the 8 daily suicides, 75% are men. Australian findings indicate that 89% know someone who attempted suicide and 85% knew of someone who took their own life. The cost to the Australian Government is estimated at $12 billion and the cost to employers for reduced mental health in the workplace is estimated at $28.6 billion from lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism (working while ill).

The Fifth Plan report notes that Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) have disproportionate experiences of  mental illness with rates of major depressive episodes four to six times higher than the general population. People with eating disorders, disabilities, people who misuse substances and those who have been exposed to trauma (e.g. sexual abuse), experience higher rates of comorbid mental health problems than the general population. These include depression and anxiety disorders, substance misuse and personality disorders. There is also a higher burden of mental illness for people who live in rural and remote Australia.

Suicide prevention is noted as a priority in the Fifth Plan and the Australian Government has committed to the following 11 elements:

  1. Surveillance—increase the quality and timeliness of data on suicide and suicide attempts.
  2. Means restriction—reduce the availability, accessibility and attractiveness of the means to suicide.
  3. Media—promote implementation of media guidelines to support responsible reporting of suicide in print, broadcasting and social media.
  4. Access to services—promote increased access to comprehensive services for those vulnerable to suicidal behaviours and remove barriers to care.
  5. Training and education—maintain comprehensive training programs for identified gatekeepers.
  6. Treatment—improve the quality of clinical care and evidence-based clinical interventions, especially for individuals who present to hospital following a suicide attempt.
  7. Crisis intervention—ensure that communities have the capacity to respond to crises with appropriate interventions.
  8. Postvention—improve response to and caring for those affected by suicide and suicide attempts.
  9. Awareness—establish public information campaigns to support the understanding that suicides are preventable.
  10. Stigma reduction—promote the use of mental health services.
  11. Oversight and coordination—utilise institutes or agencies to promote and coordinate research,
    training and service delivery in response to suicidal behaviours.

3 Threads to Help With Workplace Mental Health

Workplace mental health interventions generally target mental health using three related yet separate threads: medicine, public health and psychology. However, recent research debates the benefits and logistics of joining them.  First, reducing work-related risk factors to protect mental health. Second, developing the positive aspects of work, worker strengths and capacities to promote mental health. Third, irrespective of cause, address worker’s mental health concerns.

In medicine, mental health treatment generally focuses on symptom reduction. Yet strategies that include other factors (e.g. organisational culture and norms) appear to be more effective. Stigma is a major barrier to mental health treatment because it prevents workers from disclosing symptoms. In addition, workers often fear discrimination. The psycho-social safety climate of organisations can assist with these barriers through developing positive policies, practices and procedures around mental health.

An integrated approach may assist prevention and intervention of workplace mental health concerns among workers with upstream benefits for organisations. Through joining the threads of medicine, public health and psychology, workers and organisations can anticipate short and long-term benefits. These include better mental health literacy, working conditions, job quality and fulfilled legal requirements. If organisations adopt these actions, then the treatment, rehabilitation and return to work of staff after a mental health experience may be improved. To do this, both better understanding of how work conditions impact workplace mental health and better awareness of this is needed. Increasing awareness of work-related influences on mental health, and the growing recognition of the need for a ‘psychologically safe’ workplace may help to drive organisational efforts to improve psycho-social working conditions.

3 Strategies to Better Manage Workplace Mental Health

Research conducted by the University of Tasmania’s Work, Health and Wellbeing Network provides three strategies to better manage mental health in the workplace:

         Undertake stigma reduction and mental health literacy programs to foster a work environment where people are able to seek help early without adverse  consequences in the workplace

Effectively responding to employees with a mental health problem, regardless of cause, is a critical component of the integrated approach. Workplaces can play an important role in encouraging employees to seek help early for mental illness.

Ensure clear roles, responsibilities and processes for supporting employees with mental illness

Having appropriate supports in place for employees recovering from a mental health problem can mean the difference between them recovering faster and staying in their job, or leaving their employer or the workforce altogether. Ensuring there is clarity regarding roles and responsibilities in this area, is critical to creating a supportive work environment for employees.

Implement flexible work practices to facilitate accommodation of individual needs

Flexible work practices enables individuals to make adjustments to their changing circumstances and can assist employees in balancing work and personal commitments, while meeting business
needs and objectives.  Flexibility should be tailored to the individual needs of employees, rather than a one size fits all approach.


Young Worker Mental Health Solutions

Traditional help sources – doctors,  counsellors and psychiatrists – who provide support for mental health issues are not only overwhelmed, young people often don’t access them. At the same time, young people are highly competent at using the internet and mobile devices.

The research shows that the internet is a key medium for reaching young people. The Internet is completely natural to young workers who are digital natives, where it is a key part of their lives and a predominant source of health information. This comes as no surprise as we see this generation and many others glued to their mobile devices. Given their general love of, and capability with, technology, providing quality online mental health information to support young worker mental health has huge potential benefits including:

  • easy accessibility
  • absence of geographical boundaries
  • free access
  • interactivity
  • potential social support
  • personalisation
  • anonymity and privacy
  • potential to address the gap between identified needs and limited resources

E-mental health care does not hinder traditional treatment. Instead, it appears to be a step in the help-seeking process. First, e-mental health care may enhance mental health literacy. Second, it may contribute to a more active attitude which is important in treatment as well as increasing health empowerment. These are positive reasons to consider using e-mental health to support young worker mental health.

Web and Smart Device Technology

Part of an integrated approach to managing workplace mental health better is to include online and mobile solutions such as Tap into Safety. This software platform helps organisations identify staff groups with mental health issues early. It helps to increase mental health literacy by providing refresher training on workplace stressors that impact mental health. Finally, it provides an alternative method non-confrontational way to encourage help-seeking.

If after reading this article you feel you need immediate support, please contact Lifeline.

Social Media

Contact Information

Phone: 1300 901 849

Opening Hours

Monday – Friday
8:00am – 5:00pm (AWST)
Saturday – Sunday / Public Holidays

Scroll to Top