I Manage Tom The self medicator

The days of not talking about mental health are long behind us. Our understanding of the relationship between mental health, physical health and performance at work is very clear. As a supervisor we need to create a work environment that supports and encourages open, honest conversations with our staff.

Why? What’s in it for you as an employer/supervisor?

  • Good mental health supports us to be more resilient and cope with stress. The passenger transport industry needs drivers, mechanics and support staff that are strong problem solvers and resilient to ensure we deal with the varying nature of our work every day.
  • A supportive workplace reduces absenteeism and decreases turnover. We know how hard it is to get good staff, a mentally healthy workplace ensures you keep them.
  • A mentally healthy workplace has been shown to improve decision making, confidence and productivity.
  • We meet our regulatory obligations by addressing psychosocial risks in our workplace.

Creating a mentally healthy workplace is a large part of your role as a supervisor. We know that the most influential person in any workplace with respect to a worker’s health and safety is their front-line supervisor.

As 1 in 6 Australian workers suffer from a mental health condition so it is likely that any one of your staff is currently experiencing symptoms. Steps to build a safe and supportive mentally healthy environment include:


Understand and challenge your own biases and stigmas. There is often a lack of understanding of mental health conditions in your workplace, and stigma and myths that would be impacting on Tom’s view of himself and his colleagues view of him. Some commons myths/mistruths versus truths include:

  • Tom will never work out – Depression can be managed effectively with treatment and as a result Tom’s work performance would increase.
  • Tom must be under the influence of drugs all of the time he is so zoned out – Depression can result in slowing of movements, presenting as uninterested and difficult following tasks. Tom’s presentation is typical of depression and should improve with appropriate treatment.
  • Tom is not motivated to succeed in his role – Depression does present as a lack of motivation due to feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. It is important not to interpret his symptoms as a lack of motivation to succeed.
  • Tom just needs to “wake up to himself” – Tom needs appropriate treatment to assist him. If he had high blood pressure, we wouldn’t blame him and expect him to pull himself out of hypertension.


Support Tom. Engage in Regular, simple, informal conversations to help build a sense of belonging and connectedness. This promotes wellbeing and provides the backdrop to ask how Tom is. Find the time to focus on positive aspects of Tom’s performance and family life to help support a positive mood.


It is important that you find the right time to talk to Tom about his mental health. Not about his performance in the workshop. Make sure that you have a quiet space and Tom feels comfortable. For example, this is unlikely to be in your office. Ask open questions and give Tom time to respond. Acknowledge that it is difficult to discuss mental health conditions. For further ideas on how to start the conversation refer to “I know Tom” page.


Refer Tom for help through:

  • Your EAP service.
  • Supporting him to visit his GP.
  • Supporting him with rostering/workplace adjustments.

It is important to educate yourself as to the way that Tom’s symptoms are presenting and look at ways to support him in the workplace whilst he is gaining treatment. For example, this may include breaking down work tasks to smaller components to assist with problem solving, providing regular feedback and positive reinforcement as to what has been achieved rather than what is outstanding, removing Tom from on call (which interferes with sleep patterns), working with his psychologist on other measures to support his recovery.


Depression can be successfully treated. By understanding what these are you can provide the necessary support and direction to your team on accessing a treatment that supports them. To learn more about treatment options for depression, please click here.


Other good links for you to review or people to talk to include:

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/mental-health/depression

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, visit https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/emergency-help/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/information-and-support/depression/

If you want to talk to someone for free you can

Mensline https://mensline.org.au

Mindspot https://www.mindspot.org.au

Living with a mental health condition looks different for everyone.
Click on the profiles below to understand what experiencing mental health issues might look like in your workplace, and how to get help.