Heads up on mental health

In recognition that a mentally healthy workplace can start with a single employee – and a conversation – here are some tips to make your workplace mentally healthy.

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In recognition that a mentally healthy workplace can start with a single employee – and a conversation – NAB is running a series of ‘Heads Up’ seminars in conjunction with beyondblue.

At any given time, one in five employees is likely to be suffering from a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. While this may reflect problems at home, a person’s workplace can be a contributing factor, exacerbating feelings of unhappiness by causing stress, or through experiences of discrimination or bullying.

Consider that about one in four Australians don’t look forward to going to work. “That’s a huge percentage that are not enamoured with where they are working,” says The Hon. Jeff Kennett, AC, Chairman of beyondblue, an awareness, support and advocacy organisation for people with anxiety and depression.

If these statistics are to improve, all areas of a person’s life must be addressed. “The two places that occupy most of our lives are the home and the workplace,” says Kennett. “If both can be enjoyable places, the psychological condition of the individual is going to be substantially improved.”

Depression and the bottom line

Poor mental health continues to be a taboo subject in many workplaces across Australia. Yet for business, there is a compelling case for acknowledging it and taking active steps to ensure a mentally healthy workplace.

“A mentally healthy workplace is essential. It is essential [because it means] you have a happy workforce and people therefore enjoy coming to work,” says Kennett. “It is essential because a mentally healthy workplace adds to productivity. It is essential because a mentally happy workplace environment will result in less turnover in staff.”

According to beyondblue, untreated mental health conditions cost Australian employers $10.9 billion annually through reduced productivity, compensation claims and absenteeism. It has also found that more than six million working days are lost each year in Australia due to untreated depression.

These figures can be significantly reduced if employers take action; a business can also enhance its reputation among potential clients, customers and future employees. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, every $1 a business invests in improving mental health returns an average of $2.30.

As Kennett concludes, “a mentally healthy workplace is substantially superior on all counts of economic productivity”.

Walking the talk

One of the problems in addressing mental health conditions is that many go unnoticed. “Individuals who wish to, can disguise their condition very easily,” confirms Kennett. “There are people who will sit at their desk, quietly working, until one day they just don’t turn up.”

This makes it imperative that organisations provide a workplace environment where people feel supported. It is about removing the stigma around poor mental health, allowing staff to open up in relation to any difficulties they might be experiencing. “What you have to do is get to a place where people feel comfortable talking about the issues that go into their comfort zone,” says Kennett, “so if they do feel unwell, they can reach out and get support without being victimised.”

While many organisations are ‘talking the right talk’ about mental health these days, actions are less evident, says Kennett. “Most employers support the concept that they should be responsible for a mentally healthy workplace, but in the main, that’s where it starts and finishes – in the acknowledgement.”

That’s where beyondblue is determined to help. “Our (Heads Up) campaign is about getting businesses to not only think about it, but to exercise that responsibility,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s the chief executive or anyone in the employment chain who might have responsibility for other people. It could even be a single employee who pushes the argument up the line for a mentally healthy workplace. It can happen at any level: but you need to talk about it, you need to make it happen. We’re doing all we can to bring that about.”

A program for change

What Kennett is referring to is ‘Heads Up’ – a program established last year by beyondblue, in association with the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Relying on numerous alliances and partnerships in the public and private sector, beyondblue’s aim is to bring 80 percent of workplaces into the program over the next five years.

Its method is simple. Heads Up offers a free online tool to help an organisation develop a tailored strategy to make its workplace more mentally healthy. According to its website, www.headsup.org.au, a plan can be developed in less than two minutes. Based on the information provided, Heads Up will suggest a range of recommended actions that can be tailored further to suit an organisation’s needs.

With a vision to provide leadership to reduce the impact of depression and anxiety in NAB’s small-and-medium-enterprise customers, NAB has run Heads Up seminars in southern New South Wales, Canberra and northern Victoria and has plans to roll them out further. The aim is to increase awareness and explain the benefits of a mentally healthy workplace to its corporate customers.

The seminars discuss how individuals and organisations can work to improve mental health. One particular workshop resonated for David Robinson, NAB Regional Business Executive, Northern Victoria.

“We had an obstetrician stand up to say: ‘It’s not one in five [that have a mental health condition] – it’s everyone at some point. It doesn’t discriminate.’ That led to a rich conversation about how it affects everybody and we need to look out for it,” says Robinson.

The training proved particularly poignant for Robinson, who had lost someone he knew to suicide in 2012. Since then, he’s thought about whether he could have done something to prevent it. He had noticed the individual didn’t look quite right when he saw him at an event: “If I’d had the training, I wonder if I’d said something, whether it would have made a difference.”

The experience has made Robinson painfully aware of the need to change attitudes to suicide, including in the workplace, to get rid of the stigma around mental health so it can be spoken of openly – and people with depression and anxiety can be free from fear of discrimination. “The tragedy was that when it happened it was all hush-hush. No one would speak about it, which I think is poor. I’m interested in stopping [the issue] being taboo, giving people permission to stop that stuff happening.”

To talk to a trained mental health professional, contact the beyondblue Support Service 1300 22 4636 or for an online chat (3pm till midnight) or email go to www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support.

Or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au

Tips to make your workplace mentally healthy

increase awareness of mental health conditions

  • increase awareness of people’s responsibilities relating to mental health
  • reduce stigma
  • build the skills and confidence to approach someone who may be experiencing difficulties
  • encourage staff with mental health conditions to seek treatment and support early
  • support staff with mental health conditions to stay at or return to work
  • monitor and manage workloads
  • increase input into how people do their work
  • prevent bullying and discrimination.

Source: beyondblue. For more detailed information go to headsup.org.au

This article was first published in Business View magazine (Winter 2015). For more articles and interactivity, download the iPad edition of Business View for free via our app, NAB Think.

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