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Time to talk: how to address mental illness at work

With 8 suicides a day and increasing cases of depression, it’s time to remove the stigma of mental illness, start the conversation and support a culture of mental wellbeing for your people.

Time to talk: how to address mental illness at work

It’s time to get serious about addressing mental illness at work.

Every day, eight Australians take their life. Six of them are men. An average of 82 ambulance call-outs are made every day to men who have either made a suicide attempt or are having serious thoughts about doing so.

For over a decade we’ve known that one in five adult Australians is at risk of developing a mental illness in any given 12 months.

The Australian Mental Health Check-In revealed that nearly a third of people in corporate environments suffer from some form of mental illness, with depression outranking anxiety for the first time, accounting for 39% and 37% respectively.

Mental health disorders are on the rise in every country including Australia. The economic cost to Australia of $12.8 billion a year is expected to triple over the next thirty years. The global cost is anticipated to reach A$16 trillion by 2030.

This is no time for complacency or ignoring reality.

Every leader needs a thorough understanding of the contributing factors to these statistics, and a willingness to tackle them by creating a culture that is human-centric and wellness-focused.

Why mental illness has become such a problem?

The disruption of organisational change, digitalisation and automation, large or increased workloads, perceived time poverty, lack of support, toxic workplace cultures and chronic stress all play a part.
Feeling guilty for not coping, letting colleagues down, fearing judgement, failing to recognise there is a problem or believing they can handle the problem alone are all reasons why many choose to stay quiet and not seek help.

Admitting to mental health issues is still frequently viewed as a career-limiting action despite some reduction of the attached stigma.

It’s estimated that two thirds of those with depression are undiagnosed and untreated. While 21% of employees admit to taking time off work for mental health problems over a 12-month period, how many ‘sickies’ are actually mental health days masked by a more acceptable label? How many employees fail to seek support beause it isn’t available, or they don’t know how?

It’s time to invest in mental wellbeing

Businesses who invest in creating mentally healthy workplaces benefit from a happier, healthier and more productive workforce along with reduced costs of stress and sick leave, staff turnover and human error. PwC reported an average $2.30 ROI in their investment analysis.

Creating a culture of mental wellbeing

  • Safety first.
  • Strong, positive interpersonal relationships at work are fundamental to mental wellbeing. This is about respect, inclusion and recognition. Providing psychological safety through a supportive social network is empowering, elevates mood and reduces the fear of public humiliation or judgement.

  • Check in, build trust.
  • If you don’t ask, you’re just guessing. It’s important for leaders to open a dialogue; 47% of employees admit they don’t feel comfortable discussing their mental health issues with their manager. Creating normalcy around conversations about mental health makes it easier for individuals to speak up and ask for help. This could involve regular open forums, buddy programs and surveys.

  • Be real, be relatable.
  • Leaders are not immune to mental health issues. The leader who is open and frank about their own mental health challenges will earn respect and trust for their willingness to be vulnerable.

  • Make self-care the norm.
  • Self-care is never selfish; it’s essential in today’s high-performance working environments. For this to become normalised in company culture, it’s up to the business leader to set the tone for unwritten ground rules in self-care.

    Sustainable resilience is more than mental toughness, it’s about providing sufficient downtime for rest and recovery to avoid burnout and ill mental health.

  • Promote flexibility.
  • Juggling family commitments, ageing parents or long work commutes all add to the cognitive load. Offering greater flexibility around working hours and location can alleviate stress and enable employees to manage their workload more effectively.

  • Provide mental health days.
  • Wellness is more than just physical. Taking a day off as proactive means to staying mentally healthy can help an individual re-energise and refocus. Wellness days are good for a positive workplace culture and are rarely abused. They can serve as a preventative measure against ill mental health, decreasing chances of extended leave down the road.

    Reducing the burden of escalating mental illness begins with acknowledging the seriousness of the problem. Eight deaths by suicide a day are eight deaths too many. It’s time to take affirmative action and turn the tide of mental illness and suicide.

    If you need someone to talk to, contact BeyondBlue: 1300 22 4636, Mens Line Australia: 1300 78 99 78 or Lifeline: 13 11 14.

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