ADVICE: Tips for working with people with mental health conditions

The below is a guest post from WISE Employment’s Director of Innovation, Mental Health and Employment, Caroline Crosse AM.

For many of us, work is a big part of our daily lives and is a contributing factor to our overall wellbeing. It’s where we spend a lot of our time, and where we make many of our connections. 

Having a fulfilling job can be good for your mental health, but there’s no denying that it can also cause stress and anxiety for many of us. 

And while we may not always know about the mental health challenges of our colleagues, it’s important that we all try to be more aware, understanding and in tune with those around us. 

Director of Innovation and Mental Health at WISE Employment, Caroline Crosse AM, is a leading innovator in psychosocial rehabilitation and employment support for people with a mental illness or disability. 

Caroline heads up the WISE Ways to Work program, developed to help people living with mental illness prepare for the world of work and be supported on a graded pathway to employment. The program helps participants build key skills such as concentration, memory, problem-solving, and mental and physical health management. 

To ensure we’re all better equipped when it comes to mental health in the workplace, Caroline has shared her top 10 tips for supporting your colleagues. 

1. Respect Confidentiality 

Remember that all health-related matters, including mental health, are confidential. Although it can be helpful if an employee shares their health status with their employer, they are under no obligation to do so unless some aspect of their condition or treatment presents a safety risk in the workplace. 

2. Understand Adjustments 

An employee with a mental health condition may be managing an episodic illness and it is important to recognise that sometimes they may find it difficult to focus on their job. Working with employees who have disclosed their condition to identify suitable adjustments will help them maintain their health and productivity. 

3. Work Helps Recovery 

Recovery from mental illness is not about being symptom-free, but about managing the illness so that the person is able to live a full and productive life. Work, for most people, is part of a full and productive life and significantly contributes to a person’s recovery. 

4. Early Support Helps 

Recognising early on if a member of staff might be struggling to do their job as a result of a mental illness, and taking appropriate action makes good sense for the individual and the workplace. On many occasions effective support offered early on will prevent a more severe relapse and allow the person to continue working with the support required. 

5. Support is Available 

Employees with mental health conditions, and their employers, are eligible for assistance in the workplace from the Australian Government. Through Job Access (1800 464 800) employers can receive advice and information on funds for equipment to help with productivity and mental health awareness training for co-workers and managers –

6. Too Much Stress Isn’t Good for Anyone 

Many of us are likely to experience a mental health condition at some time in our life. Looking after our mental health involves having good relationships, enough rest, doing things that matter to us personally, and not putting ourselves under intolerable stress. Workplaces need to be aware of any stress their staff may be experiencing at work and address the problem before it becomes a risk. 

7. Good Management is Especially Important 

Most employees living with a mental health condition benefit greatly from effective support and direction from their managers. Good staff management needs to happen regularly, in private, be respectful and should not involve any surprises. Employers need to provide their managers with the skills to effectively support and direct staff who have health conditions that may affect their ability to do their job. 

8. Accommodate Strengths and Weaknesses 

Mental health conditions affect how people think, feel, and behave in a variety of ways. Most jobs can be adjusted to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of individual employees if managers take the time to learn what the symptoms and possible adjustments are. WISE Employment’s WISE Ways to Work program can assist with this process. 

9. We All Have Rights and Responsibilities 

Employees with mental illness are offered many protections under the State and Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws. The Australian Human Rights Commission (1300 369 711) offers very good information about the various rights and responsibilities of employers and employees – humanrights. 

10. Being Fair Helps Everyone 

Around the world, employees report that they are more likely to discuss their mental health with their employer if they have observed their co-workers with disability or health conditions being treated fairly. Fairness in the workplace is an important factor in employee wellbeing. Employees managing a mental health condition need to learn the skills to do this. WISE Ways to Work provides mental health management programs which are an important step in gaining control and starting on the road to recovery. 

For more helpful resources, Caroline recommends visiting: 

About the expert

Caroline is a leading innovator in psychosocial rehabilitation and employment support for people with a mental illness or disability.

She is Director of Innovation, Mental Health, and Employment at WISE Employment, based in Melbourne.

She was previously co-founder and Executive Director of Social Firms Australia, creating innovative, durable employment solutions for people with a mental illness or disability by developing social firms and related activities.

Image description: Caroline is at the beach, with some greenery and the ocean in the background. She has shoulder-length light brown hair, and is smiling.