MENTAL HEALTH SERIES: What is Mental Health? A further break down of what Depression and Anxiety is…

DISCLAIMER: We are sharing common problems our clients experience. BespokeHR are not mental health or medical practitioners and any advice provided in these blogs do not take away the requirement to seek professional advice where required, and advise to seek further assistance via the links to resources at the end of this blog.

The diagnosis of mental illness is often complex and multi-facted. There have been many debates amongst medical practitioners about what is defined as a mental illness and this diagnosis can be influenced by differing societies and cultural beliefs. 

Mental Illness does not only have environmental and social factors, but have a biological, neurological and psychological basis too.

When we are talking about Mental Health, what are we referring to? 

Some of the main clusters of mental disorders include:

  • Mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizoaffective disorders (such as schizophrenia & psychotic disorder )
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma-related disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Substance abuse disorders

For this blog, we are going to focus on two common types of mental illness which is growing increasingly apparent in the workplace: depression and anxiety. As employers, you will no doubt be experiencing one, if not more of the above list with your team and/or stakeholders. 

What is Depression?

According to the Black Dog Institute, Depression is a common and treatable condition. 

1 in 7 Australians experience an episode of depression in their lifetime, and is marked by an inability to improve a “down mood” for more than two weeks. 

For more information on the causes of depression, click here. 

According to Beyond Blue, Depression is considered to be a change in mood that persists more than 2 weeks and includes changes in a person’s mood, appetite, sleep, thinking and ability to concentrate. 

It can be caused / triggered by a range of factors, including a recent loss or death, environmental stressors, biological / neurochemical changes, unresolved trauma or anger, or changes in social dynamics and connections. 

Some core features of depression can include self-loathing, low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness, impaired cognitive ability and suicidal thinking.  

What it isn’t…

  • Feeling sad to a natural reaction to situations that cause emotional upset or pain which is generally under 2 weeks. Like other emotions, sadness is temporary and fades with time unlike depression which is a longer-term mental illness.
  • A dissatisfaction in a job, a dislike for a boss or team members, a dislike of the direction the business is going or how they do things, or a lack of passion about what they are doing (differing to I am being bullied or victimised). 

Depression is a serious clinical condition, and is not something a person can “think” their way out of. 

It is not something that a person is able to “snap out of”, and it requires a combination of treatments that are individual to the person – that may include talk therapy, exercise, prescribed medication, nutritional changes and behavioural changes. 

Here are 4 signs to watch out for in workers that may be experiencing Depression.

  1. A change in work engagement. 
  2. Circadian Rhythm differences – a person that is experiencing depression may have peaks and troughs of energy that doesn’t necessarily match a normal workday, like being excessively sleepy in the afternoon or morning. 
  3. A lack of motivation, productivity and loss of interest in things that once the person may have found enjoyable.
  4. Fatigue, tiredness and either excessive sleepiness and/or lack of sleep / overstimulation.

To find a comprehensive list of signs someone may be experiencing depression, click here. 

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion that everyone feels from time to time. However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety that they cannot control, it might become a medical disorder. 

According to Beyond Blue “Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t go away – when they’re ongoing and happen without any particular reason or cause”. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard to cope with daily life that lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry.

A range of factors can work together to cause an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders may also have a genetic predisposition towards them. Physical factors, such as an imbalance of hormones and chemical messengers in areas of the brain may also play an important role.

Here are 5 things people with anxiety may be experiencing in the workplace. 

1. Self-criticism & worry

Someone who is experiencing anxiety may have psychological symptoms like frequent or excessive worry, poor concentration, specific fears or phobias e.g. fear of dying or fear of losing control.

They may say self-critical things about themselves (and sometimes others too) or greatly criticise their work or ability to produce work at a particular standard. 

They may be extremely hard on themselves and punish themselves if they make a mistake or be overly sensitive to criticism or feedback.

2. Missed deadlines or changes to work quality / behavioural changes

Some common behavioural markers of anxiety can include procrastination, avoidance, difficulty making decisions and social withdrawal.

This could result in missed days at work, changes to the quality and speed of work being produced, and missed deadlines. 

3. Physical complaints 

As anxiety is both a physiological and psychological condition that interferes with the body’s flight or fight system, the result can be physical ailments. 

This can include being run down, getting sick often, complaints of headaches, migraines, aches and pains, fatigue, muscle tension, upset stomach, sweating and difficulty breathing.

Do you have a staff member that is often sick or struggling with ongoing physical conditions? 

Anxiety manifests in the body in many different ways, so it can be common for a physical ailment in a staff member with anxiety to morph and change into different bodily sensations and problems – for example they may have a migraine one week, and a stomach ache the next, however the root cause is anxiety.

Anxiety can also cause someone to become disconnected and out of touch with their body and normal bodily cues, which can also make someone with anxiety distressed about the symptoms they’re experiencing – like pins and needles, tingling sensations, rapid heartbeat and excessive sweating. 

4. Over attentive to details and fear of failure

A common trait in people with anxiety can be perfectionism. Notice signs of perfectionism and procrastination in employees. 

They may take longer than expected to complete a basic task, or show signs of stress over small or standard projects. 

Help break a task down for a staff member and let them know that it’s okay to try their best, regardless of the outcome. 

Communicate that any feedback on work is not personal, and that nobody is perfect. 

5. Language used. “I’m worried that…”, “What if…”

People with anxiety experience rapid thinking, and can get stuck on a small detail or minor criticism for hours, even days at a time (this can be a sign of a particular anxiety disorder – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). 

At the centre of an anxious mind are fearful, critical and often repetitive thoughts of worry and fear. 

Listen carefully to what people are saying, and whether there is a pattern of worry or criticism. 

According to The Black Dog Institute, some common thoughts for people who experience anxiety include:

“Everything’s going to go wrong”

“I might die”

“I can’t handle the way I feel” 

“I can’t focus on anything but my worries”

“I don’t want to go out today”

“I can’t calm myself down”

Do you identify any of these in your staff? Improving our education and gaining a greater understanding of mental health disorders are critical in managing mental health issues in the workplace. 

Click the links below to find more resources on what you can do to manage anxiety in the workplace and build a mentally healthy workplace. 

For more information and resources see below:

Lifeline: Ph: 13 11 14 W:

Beyond Blue: Ph: 1300 22 4636  W:

The Black Dog Institute: W:

Safework SA Mental Health Resources: W:

Mental Health Emergency Line: Ph. 13 14 65 or in case of an emergency requiring immediate assistance, call 000

Ready to get started on building an award-winning culture?

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  1. Take the Culture IQ Test – this is a simple, free 10 minute, comprehensive assessment of your business that covers 13 critical areas that make up an organisation’s culture. How do you rate?
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  3. Start the 90 Day Culture Accelerator – which covers the 4 critical areas of business: DEFINE, ATTRACT, MANAGE & GROW. These areas have the highest yielding impact on your profits, people and productivity.
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