Workplace mental health in the spotlight

It's 2020 – we need to take workplace mental health seriously.


Here in Australia, employers do a pretty good job of managing the physical aspects of workplace health and safety, for the most part. However, our legislation requires employers to ensure workplaces are both physically and mentally healthy for all employees.


Mental health is something that has touched all of us at some stage. This year, we want to focus on helping employers support employees struggling with mental health issues and assist them in creating mentally healthy workplaces – because half of us are going to struggle with a mental health issue at some stage.

Over the coming months, you’ll see us share a variety of different articles and discussion pieces – looking at mental health in the workplace from a variety of different perspectives and providing employers with useful information and advice to help create a mentally healthy workplace.

Why?

Workplace mental health has always been an area close to our hearts – but last year one of our own became a 1 in 5 statistic. Following the birth of her second child, Principal Consultant, Amanda Bell was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression and anxiety, despite having no prior history.

As a business we worked closely with Amanda to support her and give her the space and time needed to recover. Now, Amanda and all of us at Risk Strategies, want to use this experience as an opportunity to help others. So, to begin with Amanda and Lana are sharing their experiences working together to facilitate a successful return to work program.

Amanda share’s her experience

“If we’re serious about addressing mental health in the workplace, we need to stop ignoring it, pretending it doesn’t exist and treating people differently when they experience it.

It happened to me and it could just as easily happen to you – none of us are immune from trauma.

It’s important that we’re empowered to be honest, without consequences, and that managers appreciate the role that a supportive workplace can play in the recovery process”

Amanda – Who was involved in the discussion around how and when you would be ready to return to work?

I spoke with lots of people – my husband, close friends, other friends who have experienced mental illness and then Lana, my manager. Lana and I agreed to delay my proposed return to work, and drafted a graduated return to work plan, which I then sought approval from my GP and psychologist.

The plan wasn’t just about the hours I would work, or which days, but also what tasks and duties I could and would do and what I couldn’t do – on the advice of my GP we agreed no overnight travel for the first 6 weeks.

I felt like Lana was really on board and that the plan was in place to benefit both of us, that Lana understood my fears and limitations, and I could return to work knowing I was fully supported.

Lana – What role do you think workplaces can play in improving mental health awareness and management?

There’s enormous opportunity for businesses to improve knowledge of not only perinatal mental health, but mental health in general. Through increased awareness of the signs and symptoms, we can encourage workers to seek help early, and if diagnosed, provide a supportive environment during their recovery.

Businesses should consider implementing early intervention strategies and initiatives, similar to those we have in place for physical injuries and illnesses. There is growing research proving time and time again that investing in these strategies has real and tangible benefits for businesses, both in terms of financial gains and human capital.

Amanda – You’re back! How do you feel?

I feel good. Starting out slowly, finding my feet again (as would anyone returning after 8 months absence!) and just enjoying adult conversation and getting back into the swing of things.

I’m so lucky to have a manager who genuinely cares, and I feel safe knowing that if I’m having a bad day or start to feel anxious or unwell at work, that I can give Lana a knowing look and go home, no questions asked.

Lana – What more can businesses do to address mental health in the workplace?

Many employees do not seek help for mental health from their employer as there is often a lack of policies, procedures or processes to facilitate the worker’s access to internal and external support services. There is also often a culture whereby they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, or the employees simply doesn’t know that support services exist.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP)is a great start, but there is so much more you can do.

We were pleased Amanda felt comfortable disclosing her illness to us, and we were keen to support her in any way we could. We’re so glad to have here back!


The state of mental health in Australian workplaces

Half of us will struggle with mental health at some stage in our lives

It’s conservatively estimated that 1 in 5 Australians will be diagnosed with a mental illness in any given year, and that 49% of Australians will experience some form of mental ill health in their lifetime. With pretty much half of us expected to struggle with mental health at some stage, it’s a huge issue for us as humans, and in turn it’s also a huge issue for business.

The cost of mental health on business is huge

Untreated mental health conditions are estimated to cost Australian businesses around $10.9 billion each and every year. This includes

  • $4.7 billion in absenteeism

  • $6.1 billion in presenteeism

  • $146 million in compensation claims.

21% of workers have taken time off work in the last year because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy[1].

Employees worry about the repercussions of sharing their struggles

Despite mental health issues being so common, they’re not something that most Australian’s talk about openly. As a result, many sufferers avoid disclosing their issues to their employer because they’re concerned they’ll be:

  • treated differently or unsympathetically.

  • alienated, ignored or excluded from team activities.

  • overlooked for promotion, or not offered opportunities they otherwise would be.

We need to encourage people to speak up – and support them when they do

Having the courage to speak up, discussing and taking the time off needed to recover, and planning for returning to work, can be daunting for an employee, and challenging for an employer. But, when employees do speak up and employers provide the support needed, the outcomes are better for all.

If you, a colleague or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, there are a number of different support services that can help:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14

  • PANDA 1300 726 306

  • Beyond Blue 1300 224 626

For employers HeadsUp provides a host of resources and information about mental health in the workplace.

[1] State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report—tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8