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Mental health and mental illness

Good mental health is an essential part of our overall health and wellbeing.

Everyone has mental health, just as we all have physical health. Mental health is best understood as simply our state of mind. 

Our mental health will change throughout our lives, influenced by many factors. We all go through times of having low energy or being unwell, as well as times where we feel good and function well.

Even if we're experiencing symptoms of mental distress, or we have a diagnosis, with the right support at work and home we can still experience high levels of wellbeing. See Sir John Kirwan’s story and similar stories on Depression.org.nz.

It can be challenging for employers to manage and support employees through the tough times. However, taking action to create or maintain a mentally healthy workplace and encourage employees to take better care of their own mental wellbeing pays off.

What affects people’s mental health at work?

Everyone has abilities or vulnerabilities that affect their mental health and how they cope with setbacks.

There are a range of factors that affect this - some strengthen and some reduce the ability to cope. Some of these come from work while others come from the other parts of our lives, including our genetic make up. 

These factors combine and overlap, significantly affecting our mental wellbeing.

For example:

  • Difficult family problems or money issues at home might mean a person is less able to deal with an unrealistic workload.
  • Addiction problems resulting from childhood trauma could mean the person isn't engaged at work and has poor work relationships.
  • Stress from workplace bullying could lead to addiction problems outside of work, which could damage family relations and work performance, which then leads to money problems.

Good mental health

People with good mental health are usually able to deal with life’s setbacks better than people whose mental health is not so good. They usually have strong social connections and more frequently get to do things they enjoy.

They generally see life as more meaningful and may find it easier to contribute within their communities. 

However, our mental health and wellbeing fluctuates and that affects how we are at work. That’s why it’s important workplaces help people build resilience and stay well, or get better if they’re having problems.

Poor mental health

We usually think about poor mental health as coming with a diagnosis of a mental illness. But whether or not people meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis, their mental health can be poor. 

Poor mental health can include prolonged high stress levels, general unhappiness with life, and ongoing low levels of depression and anxiety.

People might also be disengaged from work, with a general lack of meaning and purpose. While they might not have a diagnosis, they are still distressed and their feelings can lead to life problems, emotional pain and poor physical health.

Some people who experience poor mental health for a long time, or who are highly distressed, may meet the criteria for being diagnosed with a mental illness.

Read more about the range of conditions at the Mental Health Foundation’s website.

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