Workplace Mental Health

Workplace Mental Health: The 3 things that must be part of your mental health strategy

It is not uncommon to hear about the topic of ‘mental health’ these days. The most recent statistics indicate that 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental health issue each year. In fact, it is estimated that nearly half of the Australian adult population will experience a mental health difficulty at some point in their lives. Whilst we are still on the journey towards understanding, awareness, acceptance and support of mental health, it is becoming a less “taboo” topic across the community.

Encouragingly, mental health is also increasingly becoming part of the critical agenda for business. This is significant because with approximately half of Australia’s population in employment, workplaces are in a strong and unique position to play an important role in the mental health solution. Not only do directors, executives, senior leaders, front line leaders and OHS professionals have a direct legal responsibility and accountability for both the physical and psychological safety of their people, there are strong commercial and ethical drivers for addressing this issue. Where organizations can provide the knowledge and tools for leaders and individuals to sustain positive mental health, there are significant benefits. Beyond the reduction of direct and indirect costs to business associated with mental illness (estimated to be approximately $30 billion per annum to Australian business) the most recent data tells us that organizations who invest in wellbeing, achieve an average return of $2.30 for every $1 spent.

The Mental Health Solution

For organizations who want to take some action in dealing with workplace mental health, there is a lot that can be done.

But what are the elements of an effective mental health strategy for business?

Firstly, best practice initiatives will include a blend of individual, leader and organisational strategies. Importantly, it is critical that any initiative aimed at supporting a mentally healthy workplace must have the full engagement and support of leadership, have the necessary financial and human resources allocated, and be a long-term strategic and targeted approach to create sustained change.

Additionally, the evidenced-based organisational research tells us that educating leaders and employees across three core areas should form an integral piece of the overall approach to dealing effectively with mental health in the workplace. These areas are:

  1. Understanding Mental Health;
  2. Supporting Mental Health; and
  3. Building Resilience

Understanding Mental Health

“Seek first to understand. Then be understood.” – Steven Covey

The first step to dealing effectively with mental health in the workplace is to increase awareness of mental health at the executive, leader and employee level. This involves normalising and then recognising when someone may be struggling. The focus here is on educating individuals on knowing the difference between normal everyday ‘ups and downs’ and mental illness. This includes understanding the signs and impact of common mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, on both individuals and on those around them.

So what is this difference and how do we know?

Most people experience times in their life when they feel strong, capable, well, and ‘happy’. We also experience times when our confidence takes a hit and we are filled with doubt, worry and ‘unhappiness’. Life can be little bit like a roller coaster. We have our good times and then we have our challenging times. Most of the time, we are able to resolve our various challenges through good choices and determination. We find a new way of thinking about things, we find a new job, we discover a new direction and we return to feeling like we can face any challenge.

Sometimes though, a low period doesn’t seem to end no matter what. Or, sometimes people live with a more long-term diagnosable mental illness like depression or anxiety and this is a pattern that affects them throughout their lives. These are times when self-doubt, deep sadness and grief, anxiety or confusion takes over and we find ourselves experiencing challenges that seem insurmountable. It is at this point that individuals are sometimes in need of some help and support.

Supporting Mental Health

“Your present circumstances do not determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start” – Nido Qubein

Once leaders and employees have built an appreciation of the nature of mental health – its causes, symptoms and impact – developing strategies for effectively supporting and managing employees who may be experiencing mental health challenges is the next step.

In addition to referral to your organisation’s EAP or other trained professional, engaging an individual who may be struggling through a ‘Supportive Conversation’ is an effective tool for managing mental health challenges. Many mental health challenges will be ignored, or handled unhelpfully simply because individuals do not have the skills or confidence to have a well-structured conversation to address mental health challenges.

An effective Supportive Conversation will include:

Acknowledgment of the difficulty of this type of conversation;
Gathering and sharing information and perspective; and
Offer and plan of support and next steps.

Building Resilience

“Do not judge me by my successes, but by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

The most mature organizations are realising that an effective mental health strategy must go beyond awareness and support. It must look at ways of developing coping skills in leaders and employees to support them in effectively coping with life’s ups and downs. Psychological resilience training provides leaders and employees with understanding for, and application of the attitudes, thoughts, feelings and behaviors that individuals who are resilient consistently demonstrate.

This includes:

  • How to respond effectively to change, pressure, uncertainty, challenges and adversity in the workplace;
  • Short- and long-term stress management; and
  • Learning how to take personal responsibility and accountability for one’s attitude and behaviors in life.

Workplaces can have either a positive or negative influence on the growing mental health issue that spans industry, region, education, and role. Responsible organizations are making the promotion of mental health a key part of their business strategy through developing the knowledge and skills to create and maintain an individual’s mental health. The result is significant individual psychological wellbeing benefits and improved business performance.

Kellie Lewis
GM – Wellbeing, Sentis

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