Toxic corporate workplace culture could be linked to Australia's spiral into depression.


The mental wellbeing of Australians is a pressing national issue – with one in five Australians experiencing sufficient symptoms of a mental disorder with factors related to employment (and unemployment) the most common risk factors of suicide in the working age population. Recently, Australia has seen a dramatic increase in the use of prescribed antidepressant medications to treat mental health related illnesses. Australia has also seen a pronounced increase in the use of prescribed opioid analgesics for noncancer pain, including opioid use for psychological distress and social stressors. It is plausible a rise in mental health problems and antidepressant and opioid medication is partly attributable to the corporate climate for worker mental health (i.e., the psychosocial safety climate, PSC).

About the project

This study will take an innovative approach to investigate prescription usage and the role of corporate climate via data linkage from the Australian Workplace Barometer (AWB) population survey (occupational health cohort) to the national Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) (public data). Data will investigate the plausible link between Australia’s high levels of antidepressant and opioid use and distress at work. This research aims to identify how PSC and workplace conditions contribute to employee wellbeing and distress that culminate in antidepressant and opioid medication use. 

The team

The project is led by Prof Maureen Dollard, Director of the PSC Global Observatory at UniSA, and supported by research team members including:

  • Dr Ali Afsharian (PSC-GO, JUS, UniSA)
  • Ms Cherie Crispin (PSC-GO, JUS, UniSA)
  • Prof Dr Christian Dormann (Johannes Gutenberg Universitat Mainz)
  • Prof Nicholas Glozier (The University of Sydney – Faculty of Medicine and Health)
  • Dr Tiffany Gill (The University of Adelaide – Adelaide Medical School)
  • Prof Anne Taylor (The University of Adelaide – Adelaide Medical School)

The impact

The project advances theory by probing corporate climate's role in work design, distress, mental health problems, stigma/discrimination and antidepressant and opioid use. It will determine if antidepressant and opioid use has led to underestimating work stress effects. Data will also be used to estimate the $AUD cost of work-related antidepressant and opioid use.

The research is significant as this new knowledge will show public policymakers, both nationally and internationally, where to focus future attention to prevent work-related mental health problems, such as depression and suicidal thoughts. The research will also identify which workplace processes can be changed to reduce unnecessary medication costs, which could significantly reduce the burden on both national and international health systems and on disability and workers compensation systems, and provide new ideas to create safer, better-quality work.

The project addresses the national Australian research and innovation agenda by developing new evidence that may be used in the future to improve worker mental health as well as to reduce health system inefficiencies and inform Australian health decision making through linking different major government public datasets. Additionally, the research aligns with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023) in increasing mental health awareness and reducing mental health stigma and efforts to increase the quality of mental health care through addressing factors within the workplace.  Finally, the study will contribute to the progress of global development goals through research on improving decent work conditions that is good for mental health as illustrated in the United Nations Foundation, Sustainable Development Goals.


Crispin, C. N., Afsharian, A., Loh, M.Y., Dollard, M. F., Dormann, C., Glozier, N., Gill, T. & Taylor, A. W. (2023). 
Psychosocial safety climate (PSC) and working conditions, predictors of mental health and antidepressant and opioid use in Australia: a study protocol for longitudinal data linkage. 
BMJ Open 2023, 13:e074235.