Creating mentally healthy workplaces

8-14 October is Mental Health Week! As many of you are already in the thick of mango season, or gearing up to be, take five minutes out to look after yourself and your employees.

Almost half (45%) of Australians aged 16-85 years will experience a mental illness at some stage in their lives. For workers in regional areas, they can be at a greater risk of mental illness particularly when they work in isolation. The workplace plays an important role in protecting individuals from developing a mental illness as well as promoting positive mental health.

There are a number of strategies managers and workplaces can implement in promoting positive mental health in the workplace as well as protecting workers from psychological harm.

1. Design the work to enhance psychological health

The way the work is designed and organised significantly impacts on worker mental and physical health. A risk management process should be undertaken to protect workers from psychological and physical injury.

Modern best practice approaches

Strong industry leadership is essential to drive the cultural change needed to improve work health, safety and wellbeing. Effective modern approaches to work health, safety and wellbeing adopt the Principles of Good Work Design (GWD)  and are:

  • participative and include worker consultation
  • holistic and integrated, considering the work, the work environment and the worker in all contexts focussed on work design and cultural change rather than individual behaviour based initiatives.  

2. Promote and model self-care and balance

Managers should promote and model good physical and psychological self-care. Workplaces where leaders and managers model positive lifestyle behaviours help others to look after themselves. This can be as simple as ensuring that everyone takes the time to have a break, making time to connect with others in your workplace, and encouraging workers to have good work–life balance. Managers and supervisors have a key role to play in supporting health and wellbeing at work.

3. Self-education around mental health

Being educated on mental health in the workplace helps to recognise changes in yourself, support others and also helps to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness that can be a barrier for individuals seeking help. This e-learning module provides free online training for managers and employees on the areas of work related mental health and stress.

4. Recognise the signs

If someone in the workplace needs support due to stress or mental illness there are common signs that provide indications to prompt early intervention. The list below provides some common signs that someone may need support (however, it is important to consider what is typical of that worker’s behaviour):

  • emotional responses and erratic behaviour—uncharacteristic behaviour which may be overly sensitive, irritable, angry, teary or tense
  • working longer or fewer hours than usual
  • disengagement
  • withdrawal behaviours (e.g. not participating in team activities or lunches)
  • increased absence from work
  • increase in use of negative language
  • frequent fatigue or headaches
  • changes in physical appearance such as less attention to personal grooming
  • a reduction in performance.

When workers are in isolation these signs can be difficult to spot, which is why it is so important to make time to regularly keep in contact with them.

5. Support others when they need it

If you notice that someone is not themselves, have a conversation with them to see how the workplace can better support them. The earlier intervention occurs the better the outcome for the individual. The Headsup tool will help you to have a conversation and support that individual.

Additional resources

There are a number of other organisations and resources that can assist you in promoting positive mental health in the workplace. Some suggestions are provided below:

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) Mental Health at Work
WHSQ provides a number of resources to support you meeting your legislative duties and develop a mentally healthy workplace.

Black Dog Institute
The Black Dog Institute is dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness. They provide a series of training and education programs and resources to professionals and the community.

Tie Up the Black Dog
Tie Up the Black Dog raise awareness of depression and other mental health issues across rural and remote Queensland.

Heads Up
Heads Up is all about supporting Australian businesses to create mentally healthy workplaces. There is a range of resources and guidance for all workers to help create a tailored action plan.

Beyond Blue Business in Mind
Business in Mind is a resource developed especially for business owners and managers. It provides information and resources to help individuals manage their own mental health and create mentally healthy workplaces.

Support telephone lines

Lifeline 13 11 14—24-hour counselling, information and referral (local call cost from a landline; free from mobiles).

Mensline Australia 1300 789 978—24-hour support for men with family and relationship problems.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467—24-hour telephone counselling for those at risk of suicide, carers of someone who is suicidal and those bereaved by suicide.

For more information on creating healthy workplaces visit Healthy Workers Initiative or email healthyworkers@oir.qld.gov.au.

Article submitted by WHSQ.