Being open with mental health issues


As we pay particular attention to mental health throughout October, it is a timely opportunity for senior managers and people leaders to reflect on their own behaviour as leaders, and the opportunities in these roles to make a positive difference to the people and teams they support.

Legal and ethical obligations aside, research commissioned by beyondblue found that two thirds of employees (67%) and leaders (68%) surveyed agreed that workplace mental health is a shared responsibility.

The sting of stigma

Around 1 in 5 Australian adults are affected by a mental health condition every year. Yet research suggests many people with mental health issues feel isolated, often at times when they need support the most.

There is a very real history of ignorance, prejudice and discrimination – or ‘stigma’ – surrounding mental health. Because of this, many are wary of opening up about personal mental health challenges for fear of being viewed in a negative and inaccurate way. Just over half of people in Australian workplaces (56%) surveyed believed their most senior leaders valued mental health.

Unfortunately, this stigma can be a significant barrier to people reaching out to get the support and treatment they may need, just as they would for any other illness.

So what can we all do to help change this?

Start with open conversation

To help reduce the stigma of mental health, it’s critical to take the time to really listen and understand the needs the people you lead.

It can be as simple as taking a more active role to:

  1. Engage: Be accountable, and have open and honest conversations with your people around mental wellbeing to help reduce any associated stigma.
  2. Connect: If someone in your team is struggling and you think they need support, approach them and start a conversation. Give them the opportunity to talk about what’s going on but also let them know this is an entirely personal decision.
  3. Encourage: Encourage team members to use existing services such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and direct them to additional services, such as Beyond Blue, or their GP, when appropriate.

Helping your people help themselves

It is important to never underestimate the role you play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of your people – not just during mental health month, but every working day.

The beyondblue research suggests that while 4 in 5 (81%) leaders surveyed work in organisations that has policies, procedures or practices to support mental health, more than a third of their employees (35%) don’t know these resources exist or aren’t able to access them.

Good leaders tend to be those who are committed to the health and happiness of their people. With that commitment comes a responsibility to protect and help maintain, as is reasonably practicable, the physical and mental health, safety, and wellbeing of the people you lead – and that can be as simple as finding out what support your organisation offers and helping your employees get the help they need.


beyondblue. State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia [Online] 2014 [Accessed Sept 2017] Available from:

Mental Health Association NSW Inc. Stigma [Online; last updated Jul 2010; accessed Sep 2015] Available from:

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health conditions [Online; accessed Sep 2015] Available from:

SANE Australia. Research report 1: Mental illness and social isolation [Online; accessed Sep 2015] Available from:

Time to Change. Mental health and stigma [Online; accessed Sep 2015] Available from: