We need to talk about mental health (at work)

I had a conversation recently with a colleague who spoke of his wife's anxiety issues. Sometimes her anxiety can be quite overwhelming and he's had to take time off work to care for her.

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This conversation was a very rare moment in corporate life. People don't talk nearly enough about mental health issues, whether their own or with someone they care for and it's sad that we don't or feel that we can.

"If we can normalise the issue at work we can help provide greater opportunities for support to sufferers."
Darren Abbruzzese, GM Technology Data, Group Technology at ANZ

Depending on your choice of survey or study, mental health issues are thought to affect 50 per cent of the world’s population at some stage during their life, and at any one time almost 20 per cent of us suffer from some type of mental-health problem.

According to the World Health Organisation, depression, the number of people living with depression rose by over 18 per cent in the 10 years to 2015.

The disorder is the largest cause of disability worldwide – and more than 80 per cent of its sufferers live in low and middle-income nations.

Closer to home, one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness according to Mindframe. Of the years of workplace productivity lost to disability in Australia, 27 per cent is estimated to be caused by mental illness.

Anxiety alone will affect 14 per cent of Australians in any 12-month period.

Even those who avoid these diseases will probably end up providing some type of care to those suffering, or at the very least know someone affected.

So if these issues are so prevalent why don't we talk about them?


Stigma, misunderstanding, fear of being judged are all reasons which come to mind. But talking about it is exactly what we need to do.

Talking about it will build understanding, knowledge, empathy and support. Talking about mental health will help normalise perceptions and will mean sufferers and carers are more likely to get the best help.

Building a support system – whether with family, friends or others – is a valuable tool for battling mental health issues, according to the federal government’s mental health website.  If we can normalise the issue at work we can help provide greater opportunities for support to sufferers.

Mental health issues are no different to any other health issue. Anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder is no different to hayfever, the flu or cancer. No one chooses to have them and they all have varying levels of impact on those affected, either directly or through care.

People get sick, it inhibits their ability to work and engage with family, friends and society at large, they need treatment and medical care. Sometimes the impacts are devastating and people die.

A direct report of mine recently had the flu (the proper bed-ridden, fever and chills type flu) and was unable to attend work for over a week. They were totally comfortable emailing the team to say what was wrong with them, how they felt and when they'd be back at work.

We responded with sympathy notes, shared chicken soup recipes and offers to help cover their work. I really wish mental health afflictions could be discussed as openly as they really are no different.

If we could comfortably talk about them in the open people would be far more likely to take appropriate sick leave, get care and other help. They would get better faster.

By not talking about it the problem only gets more difficult to manage for those suffering and for those caring.

I often share my personal experience of caring for a family member suffering from a mental health issue both within my team and also with other colleagues across ANZ at various times. I do this to build awareness and hopefully help others to have more confidence to share.

Every time I’ve spoken about it I’ve only ever experienced genuine interest and generally results in a similar personal story being shared.

I fully appreciate it’s not easy to speak about mental health problems (both in and outside of work) and it takes a lot of bravery for people to talk about their or their loved ones mental health in an open way.

It shouldn't but it does.

But the more we talk and share the easier it will be. Be brave and I'm sure you'll find a lot of support there for you.

Darren Abbruzzese is GM Technology Data, Group Technology at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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