State of Mental Health in the Workplace and Across the Country

Over the last 100 years, a census has taken place in Australia every five years. Fast forward to June 2022, and the data from the last census (10 August 2021) was starting to be released. As columnist Bernard Salt points out in a recent Weekend Australian article, a new question has been added to the census concerning our long-term health conditions. Mental health matters such as depression and anxiety are now included for data reporting, representing a one-off data collection point.

The disruption and trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly be reflected in our 18th census results. The interest will be to see what the data is telling us in five years’ time when the census is repeated using these same questions. As a comparison, Optimum’s data collected in the workplace over five years across the country, within a male dominated mining services environment, reports high levels of mental health red zone responses for depression, anxiety and stress, with 14% of respondents being referred for external psychological support. The age of the workplace population spanned 16-59 years.

Demographics continue to play a strong role in workplace mental health, with younger workers still struggling the most. Collectively (males and females) we found – 57% of 16-19 years (small sample size) and 12% of 20-29 years were in the high-risk, non-desirable red zones for mental health matters. This reduced to 7% of 30-39 year, 5% of 40-49 years and 5% of 50-59 years being in the high risk, non-desirable red zones.

In addition, historically underrepresented groups still struggle with poor workplace mental health. When our data was reviewed by gender, across all age groupings – the female reported higher levels of non-desired, high risk red zones responses. This was magnified in the age groups 20-29 years and 30-39 years where females reported 17% and 16% respectively of being in the high-risk, non-desirable red zones.

The contrast with the males in the workplace, is most striking in these two age groupings – as 10% and 5% reported being in the same high risk red zones. The age groupings of 40-49 years and 50-59 years reported similar findings in both genders at between 5-7% being in the high-risk red zones.

Our five-year data collection indicates that Australian workforces, particularly age groupings below 39 years, are already “at high risk” for mental health conditions.

Having this type of profile in a workplace and given the challenge to provide a safe physical and psychological workplace, there is a great deal to do to mitigate the risks associated with mental health in the workplace. Employers must move from seeing mental health as an individual challenge to a collective priority.

An increasing number of forward-thinking leaders realise the unprecedented mental health challenges facing their workforce can no longer be relegated to HR and must be treated as an organsiational priority. Optimum can help you broach this topic, identify the leading indicators of risk in your workforce and work with you to track the impact of any interventions introduced.


The census question described in this article reported on 10, long term health conditions. The data highlighted the exponential increase in Alzheimer’s and Dementia in those over 76 years. It reviewed the impact of asthma and mental health on the young. Other long-term conditions covered in the question increase from 40-45 years, peaking from 70 years of age.

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