mental health in the workplace

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Mental health challenges can throw a curveball into different parts of our lives, like school, hanging out with friends, and even work. But don't sweat it - there's help available.

There's no right or wrong choice when it comes to telling people at work about your mental health. Whether you choose to share this information or not can depend on how much your mental health affects your role and the amount of support you may need, or already receive outside the workplace.

So, should you talk to your boss about your mental health? We'll walk you through some pros and cons, your rights and responsibilities, and also share some solid tips on staying mentally strong at work.

Weighing up the pros and cons

Reasons to share

  • Discussing your mental health difficulties gives you and your employer an opportunity to talk about any support or changes you might need to help you stay at work or manage your workload.

  • Making adjustments to your schedule or workload can help you be more productive at work and may even reduce the number of sick days you need to take.

  • Sharing your experiences can help to change people's attitudes and reduce stigma.

  • If your performance or productivity has changed, telling your boss what you’re going through might help them to be more understanding.

  • If your employer is aware of your needs, it can help protect your rights at a later date if you ever need to make a formal disability discrimination complaint. You can find out more about your rights and responsibilities below.

  • Visit Beyond Blue for more information about mental health in the workplace, and check out this interactive tool to help you decide if you should tell your employer about your mental health difficulties.


Reasons not to share

  • Consider the impact your mental health difficulties are having on your work life. You might decide that it doesn't affect your ability to do your job, or you have enough support outside of work and feel there's not much to gain by talking to your boss about your mental health.

  • You might not need any adjustments to your workload or schedule at the moment.

  • You might be concerned that you may experience discrimination, harassment or reduced opportunities for career progression. It's unfortunate that this still occurs in some workplaces, but things like this may change in the future if we keep talking about it.


How to talk to your employer about your mental health

  • It can help to talk to someone you trust (like a family member, friend, elder, teacher, counsellor) and plan how you want to approach the conversation and how much you want to share with your employer. This might include writing down what you would like to say and what you hope to achieve from the conversation with your employer.

  • Find the right time and place. It can be helpful for everyone involved if you set up a specific time in a private space and give your employer a heads up about what you would like to talk to them about. That way, you both have time to prepare for this discussion.

  • Let them know how your mental health difficulties may impact your responsibilities and tell them what you might need or what you think could help.

  • Make it an on-going conversation – having regular catch ups with your employer to check in and see how you are going can be helpful, especially if new supports or adjustments have been put in place. 

  • These conversations are confidential, but you can always ask who else will be informed just so that you are aware of what to expect next.    



Employee rights and responsibilities

What are your rights?

The right to protection from discrimination

  • If you have a mental health condition, certain laws protect you against discrimination in the workplace.

  • The Australia-wide Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and equivalent state and territory laws make it unlawful to discriminate against, harass or victimise people with disabilities.

  • The term 'disability' is broadly defined and includes mental health conditions:
    • whether temporary or permanent
    • whether past, present or future


The right to privacy

  • Your right to privacy is covered by the Australia-wide Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and similar legislation in some states and territories.

  • If you tell your employer you have a mental health condition, they can't disclose this information to anyone without your consent. They can only use this information for the purpose for which you told them, such adjusting your role or working environment to make allowances for your mental health condition.
    • If you decide to change your mind about your organisation using your mental health information for a specific purpose, you also have the right to withdraw that consent at any time.


The right to a healthy, safe workplace

  • Under each state and territory's work health and safety (WH&S) legislation, your employer is obligated, so far as is reasonably practicable, to provide a safe and healthy workplace. This means they must take action to prevent or lessen potential risks to the health and safety of you and your colleagues, including your mental wellbeing.

  • In practice, this gives you a right to working conditions that do not cause a mental health condition or aggravate any existing mental health difficulties.

  • Get an overview of existing and proposed WH&S laws at Safe Work Australia.


Employers are obligated by law to provide a safe and healthy workplace

The Act defines 'discrimination' to include both direct and indirect discrimination. This means an employer's failure to make reasonable adjustments for a worker with a mental health condition may constitute discrimination. Visit Beyond Blue for an explanation of reasonable adjustments.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed a brief guide to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). Visit Australian Human Rights Commission for this guide.


What are your responsibilities?

If your mental health condition does not affect how you do your job, you have no legal obligation to tell your employer about it. This applies whether you are a current employee, or a potential employee going through the recruitment process.

As well as this, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) your ability to work safely is an 'inherent' or essential requirement of any job. If your disability could reasonably be seen to create a health and safety risk for other people at work, then your failure to tell anyone about that risk could be a breach of your obligations under WH&S legislation.


Tips for maintaining and improving your mental health at work

  • Take the breaks you're entitled to. In most job contracts, there's a designated lunch break of either one hour or half an hour, which you have the right to take.

  • Do you frequently stay late at work? While there may be occasions where you have to work extra hours to meet deadlines, it's important to ensure that this does not become a habit. Work life balance matters.

  • Create clear boundaries between work and home, and try not to ‘bring work home’. If you’re working from home, create a dedicated space for work and consistently use that area. This can help you disconnect from work more easily.

  • It’s okay to say no (within reason). Don’t feel the need to constantly say yes to extra work or responsibilities that sit outside of your usual job duties.

  • Ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your workload. Set up a time with your boss to talk about your current responsibilities - they might be able to take a few things off your plate while you catch up on important tasks.

  • Before you finish your day, review your tasks and make a list for the following day. Writing down your thoughts can help you stop thinking about work outside of work.

  • Be aware of the signs of work burnout and the effects on your mental health. Identifying the underlying causes of work burnout can help you begin to regain control and manage your mental health in the workplace.

  • Talk to someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling (while respecting the confidentiality of your workplace if applicable), particularly if you’ve had a tough day at work. Sometimes just voicing your worries out loud can lighten the load and help you focus on solutions.



Get support

If you're aged 15 - 25 and want to talk through your options, get free and confidential support from headspace Work & Study and sign up for one-on-one support. You could also join one of our Work and Study peer-led group chats.

For support with your mental health and wellbeing, find your nearest headspace centre or access online and telephone support via eheadspace.



The headspace Content Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed March 2024.

Australian Human Rights Commission. (n.d). 2010 Workers with Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. (reviewed 2022). Reasonable Adjustments at work. What are Reasonable Adjustments. 

Beyond Blue. (n.d). Work and mental health. 

Mental Health Foundation. (n.d). How to support mental health at work.

Mind. (n.d). Top tips for staying mentally healthy at work

Safe Work Australia. (2022). Managing psychosocial hazards at work – Codes of Practice

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