Championing mental health in the workplace: Lifeline comes to Bayside Group

Cases of depression and anxiety are increasing across the country, with an estimated 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 now experiencing a mental illness at some point in their life. Such high numbers make depression a discussion that is needed amongst all Australians, whether you are experiencing it personally, or else know a friend, family member and, likely, a colleague or employee who is.

Given that the average Australian now spends around 25 percent of their week at work, it is imperative that employers are able to provide a healthy and safe workplace that benefits all of their employees, to support those already suffering from mental illness and to minimise risks of staff developing cases of depression or anxiety.

It is often presumed that depression is something that is triggered by events occurring in one’s personal life, however research indicates that job stress and other work-related psychosocial hazards are emerging as the leading contributors to the burden of occupational disease and injury.

Bayside Group takes the issue of mental health in the workplace very seriously, and is proud to support an organisation such as Lifeline, which answers more than 2200 calls a day in Australia, proving support for those in need of support.

Bayside Group invited Cyril Hennequin, a Lifeline volunteer of 15 years, to its St Kilda Road office to discuss the issue of depression in the workplace. The company’s employees gathered together to share lunch and learn about what employers and staff can do to help create a mentally safe workplace for everyone. Educating employees about mental health and having discussions in the workplace is important.

The effect of depression in the workplace

“Major reports are showing work-related mental health conditions, also known as psychological injuries, have become a major concern in Australian workplaces,” Cyril explains. “And it effects everyone – the employee suffering from the illness, as well as the employer who needs to handle the costs associated with the long periods away from work that are typical of these injuries.”

According to a study undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year. This comprises $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims.

These statistics demonstrate that it is in the best interest of any organisation to place a high importance on creating safe workplaces for staff, so they are not at risk of developing poor mental health due to unhealthy working conditions.

What can employers do to create a workplace that promotes positive mental health?

Unfortunately,only five in 10 Australian employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy, with most of them unlikely to disclose to their manager or HR department that they are experiencing a mental health condition.

Cyril explains that there are a number of occupations, such as emergency or social services, which are at a higher risk than others when it comes to poor mental health developing amongst staff. “First and foremost an employer needs to be aware of the mental health risks that can occur within their specific industry and put precautions around these,” he explains.

“However all employers have a duty to protect their staff from psychological risks as well as physical ones. Psychological care is so often forgotten because it’s not something you can see, but it is just as severe as physical injuries. Measures to protect a worker’s mental health need to be incorporated into a business’s OH&S practices.”

Cyril suggests employers implement the following measures into the workplace to help promote good mental health:

  • Ensure your workplace procedures and policies minimise or eliminate the risk of adverse mental health.
  • Systematically monitor the health of employees and workplace conditions.
  • Have various touchpoints in place that ensure employees feel safe consulting someone if they are suffering poor mental health. This could be a direct manager, HR manager or OH&S manager.
  • Consult with employees regularly.
  • Create a work culture where employees aren’t afraid, embarrassed or intimidated to communicate their concerns.
  • Provide mental health training for staff. This can be an effective way of equipping employees with the skills and knowledge they require to manage their own mental health and support others in their workplace.

Furthermore, by demonstrating their commitment to good mental health in the working environment, organisational leaders will reduce the stigma around mental health, which can significantly aid in creating a mentally healthy workplace.

Above all, Cyril stresses that prevention and early intervention is the best method to reduce poor mental health. “The earlier the better,” he says. “Sometimes it seems like an employee might be having a bad day, and that’s ok, that happens. But ask yourself if it’s a bad day, a bad week or a bad month, and then act accordingly.”

As a colleague what can you do?

Despite being a common within Australian workplaces, talking about mental illness can often be uncomfortable, particularly when having a discussion with a colleague who you may only know in a professional sense. Cyril says that despite discomfort or feelings of awkwardness, it is important to have these difficult conversations if you notice something amiss with a co-workers mental health.

“You have to be courageous and reach out,” he says. “Re ready, be prepared and choose an appropriate moment. If you feel as though you don’t have the skills to help them, then approach someone who does and ask for their assistance in approaching the person.”

Australian non-profit suicide prevention organisation RUOK has highlighted the importance of simply “checking in” and asking how someone is feeling. It aims to empower people to meaningfully connect with others and start a conversation with anyone who might be struggling with their mental health. Cyril agrees with such sentiments, saying that sometimes the simple act of asking how someone is coping is enough to open up the very important conversation.

If you are suffering, what should you do?

According to Safe Work Australia, there are a number of factors which can result in poor mental health developing at work, including high pressure, poor support, low job demand, poor environmental conditions and remote or isolated work.

“It is important to be able to identify when stress is affecting us at work in a negative way and that we are struggling,” explains Cyril, “Look at your current coping mechanisms and then talk to someone you trust or a service such as Lifeline.”

After you’ve done this, you will likely be in a clearer, calmer place to be able to open up the discussion with your employer about how you are feeling.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression, call Lifeline for 25/7 crisis support or suicide prevention services on 13 11 14.