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Physiotherapy & Exercise Physiology Penrith

Work-related mental health disorders

Work-Related Mental Health disorders are mental health disorders that arise from an individual's workplace or working environment. It is closely related to mental stress which is a state of an individual and their increased risk of developing one or more of a particular physical and mental disorder which is clinically defined.


Work related mental health disorders are disorders caused by mental stress from the workplace. Events such as workplace pressure, workplace violence, harassment, occupational violence and suicide/attempted suicide.

What is occupational stress and what are the main causes?

Stress is defined as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that happen when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or skills of the worker” (NIOSH 1999).

This means that occupational stress is the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when a worker encounters tasks beyond their capability such as excessive work pressure, conflict amongst employees, lack of clear direction from management and limited resources to cope.


The types of mental disorders that can be attributed to occupational stress are:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

  • Burn out 

  • Adjustment disorder 

  • Depression and anxiety

What is a post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) is a disorder characterised by intense physical and emotional reactions following a traumatic event. Research shows that post-traumatic stress disorder is a disorder caused by changes in the brain anatomy and chemistry. 


Butler (2002) divides traumatic event in to 3 types: 

  1. Time limited - intensity of a traumatic event where the victim is unprepared for. 

  2. Sequential - Cooper and Clarke (2004) defines sequential as the cumulative exposure to traumatic events and occupational stressors. 

  3. Long lasting exposure to danger - repeated abuse and long periods of exposure to danger may evoke feelings of helplessness and uncertainty.

What is burnout?

Burnout is the emotional exhaustion of workers, who under the increasing demands to serve others, demand more of themselves that they can give (Freudenberger 1975). It is characterised by a sense of lack of accomplishment, overload and exhaustion.

What is adjustment disorder?

Adjustment disorder is a disorder that occurs when an occurrence cannot cope with the demands of work and then develop behavioural and emotional responses.

What is depression and anxiety?

Depression is a mental health disorder that is characterised by 

  • Depressed mood

  • Difficulty in concentration and making decisions

  • Feelings of worthlessness

  • Social withdrawal


Anxiety is defined as the persistent feelings of worry and fear in workplace situations. Symptoms may include: 

  • Overwhelming feeling of fear and panic

  • Uncontrollable obsessive thoughts

  • Nausea, sweating, and muscle tension

  • Painful memories and recurring nightmares

What are some of the effects of stress on an individual?

Some of the effects of stress on an individual are:

  • Psychological: anxiety, depression, distress and anxiety disorders.

  • Behavioural: irritability, poor dietary behaviours, sleep disorders, increase physical inactivity. 

  • Physiological: raise blood pressure, digestive disorders and increase risk of obesity. 

How do the above effects of stress in the individual affect negatively on the organisation?

  • Absenteeism; 

  • Greater staff turnover; 

  • Negative commitment to work

  • Decreased productivity and poor morale 


These are some of the effects in the individual that negatively affect on the organisation or workplace. (Greehaus and Parasuraman 1987).

Treatment of mental health disorders may be divided into three broad categories:

These 3 categories are:

  • Primary intervention: strategies to alter the workplace cause of the work-related stress.

  • Secondary intervention: strategies to directly reduce the severity of the consequences of work-related stress. 

  • Tertiary intervention: strategies involving treatment of an identified condition then from there strategies to promote full health & functioning.

Exercise would be considered a tertiary intervention - how does exercise help in the management of mental health disorders?

Mood enhancement - numerous studies have shown that exercise and those with depressive symptoms had higher rates of remission and lower depressive scores. 


Increase ability to manage flight or fight response to a stressful situation - the reactions of exercise are similar to those of a panic attack and anxiety. Exercise teaches the individual to manage these reactions which therefore allows them to self-manage when they encounter a stressful situation.


Increase in self-esteem - completing an exercise session provides a sense of accomplishment. It challenges oneself into completing a task. 


Increase in social health - when exercise is done with a group or community based. Friendship can be built through connection and encouragement, especially of those who share similar experiences, increase motivation and can possibly adhere to exercise long term.

Changes in brain chemistry - Exercise helps chronic depression by increasing serotonin (which helps your brain regulate mood, sleep and appetite) or brain-derived neurotrophic factor (which helps neurons to grow). Exercise reduces immune system chemicals that can make depression worse.

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