World Mental Health Day focuses on workplace

WORKPLACE PRIORITY: Jaelea Skehan, the director of Everymind, the rebranded Hunter Institute of Mental Health.
WORKPLACE PRIORITY: Jaelea Skehan, the director of Everymind, the rebranded Hunter Institute of Mental Health.

This week is Mental Health Week and today is World Mental Health Day. It has already been a big week for us, as the Hunter Institute of Mental Health officially rebranded and relaunched as Everymind on Monday.

Like many people, I know what it’s like to spend more of my waking hours at work than anywhere else. So it is fitting that this year’s global theme for World Mental Health Day is ‘mental health in the workplace’.

The good news is that there is a positive influence of work on people’s wellbeing – it provides financial resources, a sense of purpose and facilitates social connections. But, the workplace can also have a negative impact on our wellbeing with job insecurity, workplace stress, job demands and poor social support at work increasing the risk of mental ill-health.

While I have seen great momentum around workplace mental health in Australia, there are still many industries and workplaces where this has not been addressed at all. Or alternatively, the response has been to offer only ‘one-off’ or ‘pre-packaged’ programs that are less likely to be effective. 

So what does a comprehensive workplace mental health approach look like?

While strategies need to be adapted for specific workplaces, here are six elements I like to see in a quality workplace mental health approach.

1. Support good health and wellbeing of all staff. This means ensuring a good fit between the job and the person doing the job, preparing people well for the work they need to do, having a culture of fairness and equity, good communication between managers and staff, and increasing social connection and opportunities for peer support.

2. Reduce individual risk factors. This includes strategies to reduce drug and alcohol misuse, support healthy diet and physical fitness, ensure good management of injuries or pain, as well as increasing skills like financial management. 

3. Identify and reduce environmental risk factors. This will consist of fatigue management, reducing accidents and injuries, managing excessive stress in the workplace and having clear policies and actions to reduce bullying and harassment. 

4. Build skills to identify and respond to problems early. This might include education about mental illness, training for supervisors and peers to help with early identification of problems, and building a culture where help-seeking is seen as a positive thing and where people offer support to others. 

5. Provide paths to treatment and support. This may be offered through an Employee Assistance Program or through primary care providers. Many workplaces have also benefited from peer-to-peer support models and connecting workers to prevention and treatment programs online.

6. A good return to work, or stay at work, plan for those experiencing problems. To do this effectively, workplaces need to manage absences well. 

Workplace mental health is an area of priority for us at Everymind, with our current focus on the mental health of small business owners and workers, medical professionals, early career teachers and those that work in the arts and entertainment industry. 

To participate in our small business research, find our brief survey at  bit.ly/SmallMH 

Find out more at everymind.org.au

Jaelea Skehan is the director of Everymind. 

For support: Lifeline 13 11 14