Early identification of mental illness in the workplace

Stressed woman

Employers need to look for changes in employees’ behaviour as an indicator of psychological distress.

This was one of the messages shared at the MLCOA toolbox talk by Dr Graeme Edwards, Occupational & Environmental Physician, on The Biopsychosocial Approach to Case Management this month.

Dr Edwards, known for his contribution to the Realising the health benefits of work research paper, presented to rehabilitation coordinators on the importance of early identification and effective case management of mental illness.

Dr Edwards shared statistics that emphasised the prevalence of mental illness in the workplace. In any one year, 17% of Australians will experience mental illness.

In a study of 60,000 public servants using a test for psychological distress, 6% fell into the highly distressed category. Of that, only 20% were receiving any treatment for their condition and 30% did not recognise they had an issue.

Incivility is often how psychological issues are commonly represented in the workplace, eg. rudeness, ambiguous comments and breech of workplace norms of respect or professional behaviour.

Employers should try to recognise these warning signs in workers, respond with support early, assess the worker’s needs, agree on an ‘at-work’ management plan, and then support their recovery and restoration of work ability.

Effective case management should promote the health benefits of work as returning to, or staying at work, after an injury, be it physical or psychological, has been found to be in the long-term interest of the worker. Many workers who are off work following an injury become depressed and research has shown that the longer a worker is away from work, the less likely it is they will ever return.

The earlier a case can be identified and managed, the better the outcomes are for both the injured worker and the employer.

Find more information on mental health in the workplace.

Last updated
01 March 2016