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Effective workplace communication with employees with psychiatric disability


Talking about problems

Developing problem-solving skills will assist supported employees to participate effectively in the workplace.

Identifying when a problem exists, and then solving it, is often very difficult for employees with psychiatric disability. Mental illness will frequently set up barriers to thinking logically. The employee may:

Any one or a combination of these factors will make problem solving and decision making extremely hard for the person. Support workers can assist employees with psychiatric disability improve their problem-solving skills by assisting them to:


Elliot has always been very concerned about his inability to attend regularly. The problem was discussed at his most recent planning meeting. Elliot said he has trouble 'getting moving' in the morning. He wakes up and wants to go to work but says he'll often find himself still in bed an hour later. The bus has long gone and he's got no way of getting to work. He says he feels 'really dopey and muddled' in the mornings and is better in the afternoons. At the meeting, Bob and Cara asked Elliot if he could think of a way of solving the problem. He couldn't think of anything at first.

I suppose I could get another alarm clock – one that is louder.

Do you think that would work?

No, not really, 'cause I hear the alarm. I just don't get up and get dressed.

Do you still want to come to work?

Yes – I need to work and I like it here when I get here.

Is there anything else that could be changed?

I don't think so ...

You say you feel much more awake and alert in the afternoons … right?

Yeah … I'm much better then. I take my dog for along walk and do the shopping and I've got plenty of energy.

So, do you think it might be easier to work in the afternoons?

Yeah … but my job starts at 8am.

From Fran's notebook

Elliot has moved over to do the evening shift at Space Cake. He starts at 3pm each day. He's been there a month now and hasn't missed a day, apparently. I'm really surprised. I thought he was just lazy when he was here. He's such a big, healthy-looking bloke and so capable. I always wondered why he said couldn't get himself organised. It seems that starting in the afternoons suits him better – something to do with his medication.


  1. Recognise and compensate for problems with thinking that interfere with a person's ability to recognise and solve problems. To compensate:
  1. Reduce distractions. The employee may be unable to 'filter' the important information that is needed to concentrate on the problem. You can minimise the resulting difficulties if you:
  1. Avoid overloading. Overloading can occur if the information that needs to be 'processed' to solve a problem is too complex or varied for the employee to cope with. It will help avoid this situation if you:
  1. Reduce stress reactions which can interfere with the employee's understanding. Think carefully about how you present the problem situation, including:
  1. Assist accurate interpretation of social interactions. Employees with psychiatric disability may be confused and distracted and misinterpret what people say or do. It is a useful strategy to:

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