How to tell your employer you have a mental illness and need time off.


Buddy’s announcement raises an issue we should all be thinking about.

Star footballer Buddy Franklin shocked the AFL world by putting his career on hold while he seeks treatment for a “serious but treatable” mental health issue.

Not only was the fact that he was missing out on the first round of finals a surprise, but so too was the fact that he took time away from his job to be treated.

It’s a fairly rare thing in Australian workplaces, despite statistics showing almost half of the population will experience a mental health disorder at some stage in their lives.

According to not-for-profit organisation SANE Australia, one in five Australians will experience a mental illness in any 12-month period. In that time, anxiety disorders will affect 14 per cent of people and depression will affect six per cent.

But being upfront with your employer if you’re suffering from a mental illness is not as easy as it sounds.

Workers who may need support, time off or flexible work options are often worried about being treated differently by their bosses or colleagues or losing work opportunities.

BeyondBlue chief executive Georgie Harman recently said that while openness about mental health issues could help managers create the best environment to support recovery, employees should only speak up when they are confident they will be supported, Fairfax Media reported.

But Australian Human Resources Institute Chairman Peter Wilson told Mamamia that it is best to be open about mental illness if you are seeking support from your employer.

“It’s a very confronting thing to do if you have an illness and you don’t know your employer’s standards on the issue,” Mr Wilson said.


He said the way the Sydney Swans have handled Franklin’s situation was an example of the respectful and mature modern standard for employers.

“We are getting the behaviour of businesses to align with the reality that one in five people each year will suffer from a mental illness and employers are increasingly creating policies to encourage their employees to come forward,” he said.

He said there was still a stigma attached to mental illness in some parts of the corporate world, but most employers had defined policies and accepted that ‘illness’ includes mental health issues and stress.

“We are breaking a lot of boundaries down, but I’d encourage people to be proactive and cautious and to work out how best to bring your case forward if there are no set standards in the workplace,” he said.

“Sometimes you have to be part of the precedent-setting.”

Mr Wilson recommended workers with a mental illness to do their homework on their own employer and, if they are unclear about their employer’s policies, seek out a trusted colleague as a support person, or seek advice with an external body such as the Australian Human Resources Institute.

“And be positive – the glass is half full on this, not half empty like it was ten to 15 years ago,” he said.

“People should be confident that they will be supported.

“Just be cautious if you don’t see any signs of maturity of thought and response. Make sure you’re supporting yourself in raising a matter that clearly needs to be raised.”

If you’re after more information, Heads Up has an online tool to help you decide if being open about your mental illness at work is the right step for you.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or at their website